We’ve been following the workers progress as they’ve been learning all about Lean. In Part 1 and Part 2, they became empowered by successfully finding areas with impeded workflows and applying Lean Tools to eliminate waste and streamline processes. In Part 3, the workers successfully established and implemented new standards and steps for an old, thoroughly inefficient process, which they had been struggling with for decades. In Part 4, a 5S event revealed each welder had designed their own unique work aids, enabling them to share their tools and cross train each other on their assemblies.
In this Part 5, we are going to learn why, only a few months after beginning the Lean Transformation Project, workers at this company became concerned about their jobs and questioned the number of incoming work orders they were receiving.
Workflow on the shop floor felt like it was running a little too smoothly lately, prompting several factory floor workers to approach the plant manager. The plant manager responded by asking the workers to elaborate on what they were worried about. The workers said, “We are concerned, it seems like business is down and everyone is starting to worry about the company’s future.” The plant manager responded by telling the workers the factory was handling more orders per week than at any other time in the company’s history. The workers could hardly believe it, so they pressed the point a bit further. They said, “It used to be everyone was running around like crazy, rushing to get orders out the door and now it’s obvious to all of us, no one is doing any rushing around anymore.” The plant manager responded by saying, “Your observation is correct. We are not doing all that crazy rushing around anymore. In fact, we’re getting each job out more smoothly and easily than ever before, like clockwork!” The workers grudgingly accepted what the plant manager was saying about the increased business volume and went back to their jobs, still wondering if it could really be true.
The Absence of Waste is Also Invisible
So, what exactly was going on here? Well, as it turns out, the new Lean Transformation produced an environment where each worker could focus on their task without interruption. After streamlining the workflow and eliminating all the fritter factors, those areas no longer consumed the workers’ time. In fact, the Lean Transformation Project had eliminated so much wasted time and wasted effort, the workers were now handling nearly twice the volume with ease. The great difficulty they were previously struggling with at only half the volume had disappeared. They were now experiencing the results of their own Lean efforts and didn’t even realize it. They only remembered the everyday pressures of rushing around trying to finish orders, the constant interruptions and how hard they were working before their Lean Empowerment experience. Once the results from their Lean Project began to emerge, they immediately linked their smoothly running, transformed area to a large decrease in orders, creating much worry and concern. Just as the waste was invisible to them before the Lean Project, so was the absence of waste invisible to them after the Lean Project.
The Lean Empowerment Recap
So, let’s recap what happened at this company, which implemented Lean in a big way, in more detail. They had improved productivity tremendously. How much productivity increase did they see? With the same number of people, they were handling twice the production volume with ease. Lean Empowerment created a stress free environment for the workers and they now felt like they did not have enough work to do, which they interpreted as a drop in business. In fact, in the final analysis, the company was able to double its production, while reducing their workforce by a third in the next two years through attrition.
This is the power of lean, and this is the power of empowered workers who are doing the right things for productivity and quality and service of the customer. This company was loyal to its workers, so nobody lost their job. However, like most other companies, there’s a natural amount of attrition and worker turnover, so in this case the company did not replace every worker who left for a variety of reasons. One-third fewer workers, working in a less stressful environment, cranking out twice as much product is quite an accomplishment. This is the power of Lean.
Andy Pattantyus, CPIM is president of Strategic Modularity, Inc., a systems engineering consulting firm that works with clients on process oriented Lean Transformation projects, including initiatives to improve administrative workflows. Andy is also an active member of APICS-SFV and The ACA Group. If you would like to get in touch with Strategic Modularity, Inc., contact Andy here.