Lean started changing the way I work from the day I first learned that it exists.
I am a nationally certified machinist/millwright by trade. One day I was working on a positive displacement pump at Shell Chemical in Geismar, Louisiana as a contractor. At this time I was not familiar with lean, but I have long had a way of working that resembles lean. It consists of laying white paper towels on a table and only taking out the tools I need to execute the job at hand. In addition, on this occasion, when I disassembled the pump due to multiple valve failures, I staged the parts right to left. That way, if anyone had to rebuild the disassembled pump they would be able to work in that same direction.
On this particular day I was approached by a Shell employee, whom I had never met before and did not know he was the Site Focal Point for Lean. At this time the site was just being introduced to the lean way of life, and the Focal Point was out in the plant shadowing different people to understand different ways of working. Imagine my surprise when that Focal Point, a Shell leader, came up to a contractor like myself and asked, “Do you always work in an organized fashion?” I said, “My wife likes my checks so…yeah.”
Imagine the amount of empowerment I felt at this moment. “Wow, a Shell guy asking me, a contractor who feels faceless in the crowd, about MY style of work. I have an identity now.” SWEET!!!!
When we stopped laughing he asked me to explain why I worked like I do. I told him that taking out only the tools I needed to build the pump helped me to fix the equipment faster because I do not have to dig through a toolbox. Also, my toolbox was organized in such a manner that certain tools went into certain trays and were always put back cleaned. By this way of working I ensure I can get the equipment back in running condition quickly so the downtime of the units is reduced.
He also asked, “Do you do this at home?” I responded, “Yes, my wife calls it the ‘Sleeping with the Enemy Disease.’ My pantry has all of its canned goods arranged exactly three high, nine deep and all labels facing out.”
It wasn’t long after this discussion that I was hired on to work at the plant full time in operations. Within five years I was promoted to join the Lean Specialists team at our site, which at that time only consisted of two other people. This type of work has allowed me to open the eyes of many more people and become more value added in their scopes of work. I also am known as the “STICKIE MAN” due to the fact that I have the best inventory of post-its of any office in the entire Gulf Coast.
This way of working has matured me not only in a professional manner but also in a personal manner as well. I set this practice in front of my children and developed them into Mini Me’s. My wife, on the other hand, is not so crazy about the Mini Me part. But I’m sure she’ll come around.