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Addressing Production Challenges that Arise from the Pandemic

by John Shook
April 30, 2020

Addressing Production Challenges that Arise from the Pandemic

by John Shook
April 30, 2020 | Comments (0)

Many producers that have been shut down due to the coronavirus are preparing to restart operations. Others have been producing all along. I will share how two companies with deep lean experience – GE Appliances (GEA) and Herman Miller – have responded quickly and with great agility to the frontline challenges presented by social distancing and the need to keep employees safe.  

I reached out to Rich Calvaruso at GEA and Matt Long at Herman Miller with questions in mind that included: 

  • What problems are you encountering? What does lean thinking have to say about fundamental approaches to thinking about those problems? 
  • What countermeasures are you trying? What thinking is informing these choices? 
  • What lean practices and skills are emerging as especially critical now? Which of these is proving to be indispensable?  
  • Are you able to step back and capture what you are going through from a learning perspective?  
  • In what ways might this experience make you—and others—stronger? What opportunities are there for continued application of any practices or solutions even after the crisis is “over”? 

We held, so far, two exciting and instructive exchanges via Zoom (or was it Teams, or Skype, or Webex – all these web meetings are becoming a blur). Participants were: 

  • GE Appliances – Rich Calvaruso and Catherine Werner  
  • Herman Miller – Matt Long, Chris Shier, Scott Bacon, Steve Michalak 
  • LEI – John Shook, Josh Howell  

I must express my deepest appreciation for their generosity in sharing the wisdom of their experience with the lean community.  

Classic Lean Thinking  

Exhibiting classic lean thinking, both companies have been working methodically through one problem at a time. They are – grasping the situation, clarifying and breaking down the problems, experimenting with countermeasures, and all the while being mindful of what the organization is learning. And, not surprisingly, many parallels were quickly apparent in both the problems they are facing as well as the thinking they are applying to tackle them. Critically, both companies credit their deep experience with lean thinking and practice as the key that has enabled them to adapt quickly and, so far, effectively.  

To learn more, please read my eLetter: Emerging Stronger or, for a more detailed account, read: The Impact of Social Distancing on Assembly Operations.


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