In this snippet from the WLEI Podcast, Cliff Ransom takes us on a journey to the factory floor, specifying what to look for, how to analyze it, and finding where lean thinking is present and absent in the workers’ environment. Find a transcript for the clip below.
Looking Up, Down, and Around
Cliff: “Let me take in a factory as an example. I’ve got a very silly little thing. Clients say, “What do I do when I walk onto a factory floor?” “Well,” I say, “look up. Three things: look up, look down, and look around.”
Look up at the lights. This applies in an office too. The lights and the condition of the ceiling will tell you more about what those people think about the people that work for them than anything else in there. It will tell you more about their dedication to high quality than anything else in there. You can argue when you see cutting fluid or hydraulic fluid on the floor. You know perfectly well that machine’s not being well maintained. And, if it’s not being well maintained, it’s not going to hold specs. If it’s not going to hold specs it’s only a question of time before you hope somebody pulls the Andon Cord and stops production. Then you look down. You look at the floor. I sort of got ahead of myself. You look at the floor. Is it clean? Is it shadow boxed? Is the stuff that it’s shadow boxed for in the shadow boxes? And then the third thing is you look around. You have to be able to see the flow and the velocity. You have to see that there’s one piece between every space of production.
I’ve been in so many plants, it drives me crazy. I’ll leave the names, for my clients. For example, there are a lot of people who make tractors. I’m not picking on any one person, or heavy machinery. There’ll be a gear that’s three feet across and it has to go through a variety of different cutting functions. And there’ll be 10 or 12 gears between these gigantic monuments. I’ll say, “Why do you do that? Have you considered doing something different?” And it doesn’t take a long time. Now, sometimes you have to be really polite. I grew up in a command and control environment. People told me what to do and I told people what to do. And for the last 15 years I’ve been trying to just ask questions. And this is very hard. It requires a fundamental restructuring of how you go through life. It’s something you have to just remind yourself over and over and over again.
Implementing Work Balance
So, if I see Kanban cards, if I see small supermarkets, if I see one-piece flow. I was in a plant in China, a power tool company, again it’ll go nameless. There’s a bunch of them. They wanted me to look at their factory from up on a balcony. I said, “Nah. I’ll tell you what, you guys can stay up here if you want.” I just ran down the stairs and walked out on the floor. By the time they caught up to me, I was standing in a cell, making a tool, and I said, “You do know this cell’s going to stop in 47 seconds, right?” And they said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Because you’ve got no work balance on this place. I’ve already figured out the…” not the takt time. They didn’t even know what takt time meant, “production time per tool and there’s only enough parts in that bin that you sent him at the beginning of the line, and it’s just going to all stop.”
I said, “Now some of these guys are going to be working for half an hour because they got so much intermediate work in process.” In China they’re so smart they have the women be the supervisors. Much wiser than having the men be. This woman is running down the aisle holding a tray of that initial component to feed the line before it stops. And I turned to the plant manager and I said, “You really don’t think this is lean, do you?” And he said, “No.” And I said, “Well, then let’s do something about it. What are you going to do the rest of the afternoon? You got a crowbar? Let’s go fix it.” If they think you’ve got a problem. I’m not really suggesting we fix it but I’m trying to see how they feel about that, because that’ll tell me more about how the supervisor thinks about it.
The Lean Connection
Tom: I guess my question has to do with whether you can try some of these more abstract aspiration, respect for people, continuous improvement, and so forth, with a mandatory compliance, wrong word, but to some established operational principles working in-
Cliff: Tom, you’re being too formulaic because every situation is different. I will look to see what are they measuring? If they’re measuring equipment efficiency, I’m going to be suspicious right there if it’s OEE because that’s usually the biggest contributor to the number one waste, excess inventory. If they don’t start every meeting, every annual report, every daily management walk, every piece of standard work with safety, I know they’re never going to be a super achiever. If you don’t have a safe environment, you’ll never get my number two requirement, which is employee engagement.
I learnt this at Caterpillar when they finally got serious about lean, maybe 20 years ago. They’d been messing with it for a long time. And I said, “Well, why are you doing safety?” They said, “Because if somebody thinks he’s going to go home and say to his spouse, ‘Well, old Fred lost his other hand today because the light shield didn’t work and it whacked his hand off,’ they’re not going to be productive.” Bob Chapman runs a huge private company, he says, “We’re going to treat these people like they’re family. We’re going to treat them just like their kin.” And when you do that, then you can think about flow and velocity, you can think about cost, you can think about quality, you can think about delivery. But all those other things… I say to CEOs all the time, “You’re measuring the wrong stuff.”