I guess the simplest answer here is that old habits die hard. When you take people out of their comfort zone they tend to fight hard to get back to what they know. I suppose a touch of the “not invented here” syndrome also plays a role.
Back when I was a Group Executive at The Danaher Company we started using The Shingijutsu Company as our lean consultants. These were four individuals who had spent their whole careers at Toyota and had worked directly for Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System implementing TPS in the Toyota Group Companies and in Toyota’s first tier suppliers. We were their first and only client in the US, and focused our initial efforts on a couple of companies in my Group. Jacobs Engine Brake, or “Jake Brake”, led by George Koenigsaecker took the lead and produced great results.
George and I both had strategic planning backgrounds and from the very beginning we saw TPS/Lean as the greatest strategic weapon a company could have. One day at lunch we asked the President of Shingijutsu, Mr. Iwata, how Toyota could let them loose (Ohno had pushed them to leave Toyota and form Shingijutsu) to teach other companies this amazing system. He looked at us and just laughed. “Look, I can tell you about TPS, I can even take you and show you TPS, but I bet you can’t go home and do it,” he said. To this day this is one of the most insightful comments about lean I have ever heard. I can show you but you still won’t be able to do it. Over the years I have seen many examples of this.
One of my other Group companies at Danaher, Holocrome Corporation, made bolts on machines known as cold headers. These machines took a long time to change over. This in fact was one of the company’s biggest problems. We organized a kaizen to reduce the setup time. The company set a target of going from 2 hours to one hour by the end of the week. Our Japanese consultant rejected this at the kick-off meeting and said “no, it must be under 10 minutes.” Everyone thought this was just crazy.
On Friday, however, we stopped production and had all the cold header operators come and watch the results of the kaizen. The set up was done in one minute. We did it several times so they could see how it was done. At the end of the demonstration two operators near me headed back to work and one said to the other, “what did you think of that?” His buddy replied, “well, that was interesting, but I bet they couldn’t do that on my machine.” The machines of course were basically all the same so here was a great example of someone seeing something with their own eyes and still rejecting it.
Another similar example occurred when I was CEO of The Wiremold Company. AME had asked if we could make a presentation at their annual conference. We decided to tell the story of how we reduced the setup time of a 150 ton, coil fed press with a large progressive die from 3 hours and 10 minutes to 1 minute. As most of the key ideas came from our operators, Jose and Carlos, we wanted to have them give a big part of the presentation. They were both from Portugal, had strong accents and have never spoken before 500+ people almost all of whom had college degrees and were engineers and managers. They were understandably pretty reluctant. We coached them through it and they explained the step by step changes that were made. At the end, Carlos, who was the last presenter, showed a film of the one minute changeover. The first question/comment from the audience was, “gee Carlos, you were going awfully fast in that video.” Of course what he was really saying was, I don’t have anyone in my plant that will move that fast so I guess I can go home and ignore the fact that I saw that it is possible to reduce a setup from 3 hours and 10 minutes to one minute. Carlos just looked at him like he was completely out of his mind and then gave the perfect response, “but only for a minute.” My guess was that most of the rest of the audience reacted the same way as the guy who commented. They saw it, didn’t believe it and went home and did nothing.
Another example from my time at Wiremold occurred in our plastic operation. Our bank asked if we could discuss lean with another one of the companies they lent money to and perhaps show them some examples. It turned out that this company had the same size injection molding equipment that we did, purchased from the same vendor. We showed them a 2 minute mold change that had previously taken two and a half hours. We did it several times. On the way back to the conference room the CEO, who was standing right in front of me, said to his VP of Operations, “what did you think of that?” The response was, “well that was interesting but it doesn’t really apply to us as we like to have long runs.” Yikes!
I could give you countless other examples but it has always amazed me how you can show someone something that is totally relevant and helpful to them and still have it rejected. Even more surprising to me is that even if someone did have some interest it would be unlikely that they would grasp the strategic implications of such vast reductions in setup times. It just doesn’t fit their preconceived idea of things. They see it as an interesting one off kind of thing and fail to grasp the impact it would have on their ability to deliver more value to their customers, gain market share and grow if all their set ups could be reduced.
I guess the old saying of “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” holds true for lean as well. It does, however, help to explain why so many companies struggle to get the results they should be getting with lean.