Yesterday I visited a small factory owned by a friend of mine. I had visited the facility once before, when times were good and they had more orders than they could keep up with. As I said, business was good, but the harder they worked the more they had issues with delivery, quality and cash flow.
During that first tour, I was chatting with my friend’s production manager. Pointing at the mountains of semi-finished goods on the factory floor, I explained that in those mounds were hiding defects (later to be discovered by customers), clogging the production cycle (impacting delivery), and tying up his boss’s cash (needed for sales, marketing and other investmens). Reducing the WIP, I argued, would be a solid first-step in turning the place around.
To my surprise, the production manager seemed well versed in LEAN. He understood how to balance the production on both sides of the bottleneck, and how to eliminate non value-added steps in the process. He understood the value of JIT and Jidoka.
“All good stuff”, he said. “But we can’t implement it here.”
Why? Because they were too busy for LEAN or JIT. If they tried he explained, it would slow the process flow, resulting in even more delivery problems. Yes, in principle it’s a good idea. But not here. Not now.
That was during the good times. Yesterday’s visit showed a much slower factory, with much fewer workers and lots fewer orders. Some things, however, haven’t changed. There are still piles of WIP on the factory floor, and (not surprisingly) they are still having quality, delivery and cash-flow issues. Once again, I broached the subject of LEANing the production flow, and once again there was a “good reason” not to. Whereas before they were “too busy” for LEAN, now there was “not enough work” to go LEAN. Now the thinking, it seems, is that if they go LEAN and utilize their labor (and other resources) efficiently then some people wouldn’t have enough work to be kept busy. (I mentioned to him that the workers who were idled by balancing the line could be employed in his factory’s 5S efforts, but that didn’t go over too well).
This I’ve heard before. LEAN makes sense. It’s good stuff. But not here. Not now! Here are some lame excuses to maintain waste in the production cycle:
- People need to be kept as busy as possible. That’s the only way to be efficient. (Actually, processes need to be efficient– not people)
- It works for Japanese and westerners, but for cultural reasons, Chinese can’t understand/implement/accept it. (Total bullshit. LEAN works just fine in China)
- LEAN production looks less busy and active, and people will think they don’t have to work hard. (Not really. People are smarter than that– especially the workers who can see first hand how productive their team has become).
- You will need to hire lots of additional people to do the clerical work required for LEAN. (Not true. And if there were “extra work” to do, it could be done by some of the people made temporarily redundant by balancing the line).
- People want to do the same repetitive tasks over and over all day. It makes them feel like experts. And the longer they perform that one task, the quicker and better they become. (I doubt it. But even if it did make them faster, it wouldn’t make production faster or any better.)
- LEAN is great if you have large production runs, or if all of your items utilize similar process steps. But our low-volume/high-mix model can’t be LEAN. (100% wrong. LEAN is great for low-volume/high-mix production. LEAN makes your facility flexible and agile).