Stop the Music! | Bill Waddell

See on Scoop.itlean manufacturing

Harley-Davidson has announced a no music in the factory rule – period – no exceptions – no ifs, ands or buts.

“Hundreds of Harley-Davidson employees learned through a memo last week that their radios and music being piped onto the factory floor would be kaput by Wednesday — part of a continuous effort to improve safety.”

“‘It’s a distraction,’ said Maripat Blankenheim, director of external communications for Harley. ‘It’s really important for people – no matter what they do – to be focused on what they do.’”[…]

Behavior policies for working adults & the lean principle of treating people with respect are polar opposites:

Michel Baudin‘s insight:

Bill Waddell takes exception to a policy recently issued by Harley Davidson to stop piping music onto the factory floor. According to him, such policies are demeaning. I can’t follow him there, for the following reasons:

  1. In my book, respect for people includes allowing each person to work without being bothered by somebody else’s music. If you love Country, working all day to Wagner operas would be torture, and vice versa. If you recall Mars Attacks, humankind is saved by the discovery that yodeling makes Martians’ heads explode.
  2. Sound, on a manufacturing shop floor is used for communications. In some factories, specific tunes are used to mark the start and end of shifts and breaks, and to signal alarms coming from different areas. Piping music for entertainment through the public address system interferes with these messages.
  3. If you allow distractions at work, where does it stop? I once visited a car assembly plant in the US, where I saw an operator watch Oprah on TV while screwing on a dome light, and immediately resolved never to buy a car made in that plant. Does music diminish performance? Software engineering guru Tom DeMarco described an experiment where multiple computer programmers were given the same assignment in two rooms, one with music and the other one without. The assignment was to write a program to execute a given series of calculations, which ended up always coming out to zero. Half the programmers in the quiet room noticed it and wrote a program that just printed “0.” None of the programmers in the music room did, and all of them implemented the given series of instructions to calculate 0.
  4. Music plays different roles in different circumstances. When you are driving 100 miles alone on Highway 35 from Minneapolis to Albert Lea, the radio can save your life by keeping you awake. If you need music to stay awake on a production shop floor, it means that your job has been badly designed.

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7 comments on “Stop the Music! | Bill Waddell

  1. Michael,

    I think you missed my central point, that across-the-board policies are demeaning. In some places in some plants music can be a distraction;in others it is not., as the OSHA expert cited in the article said. Further, while distracting orannoying other workers may be a problem, that is not what H-D said. They said the policy is for safety reasons.

    As David Foster commented to this piece, it is similar to Yahoo’s no working at home policy. My gripe is with management that does not have the will to address each person and each circumstance individually – easier to simply adopt blanket policies even though they are wholly inappropriate for some people.

    Finally, in your example in which “The assignment was to write a program to execute a given series of calculations” it seems to me that those who simply wrote a program to equal ‘0’ failed the test. That program does not “execute a given series of calculations.” Maybe if they all had music playing they would have all performed the assignment correctly.

    • Sorry Bill, but some policies just have to be across the board. One such policy, for example, is “signage must be accurate.” In a large plant, if you tolerate inaccurate signage is one or two areas, the credibility of signs throughout the plant is destroyed.
      At Honda plants, everybody wears white overalls, for the purpose of making any grime obvious and triggering countermeasures. It is not difficult to envision what would happen if it were not an across-the-board policy. And I never met anyone at Honda who found it demeaning.
      If you write a program to calculate a series of formulas, it is perfectly legitimate to use any correct simplification you could find. What you said reminds me of the story of the two-question exam given to an engineering student:
      Question 1: “How do you boil water?”
      Answer: “I take a pot from the closet, fill it up with water, place it on the stove, turn on the stove, and wait.”
      Question 2: “You already have a pot of water on the stove. How do you boil water?”
      Answer: “I empty the pot, put it back in the closet, and I am back to Question 1.”

  2. Comment on Bill Waddell’s Manufacturing Leadership Center blog:

    At Toyota, we wouldn’t provide chairs for the Team Members to sit down, where & when they were supposed to be WORKING! There were plenty of chairs and picnic benches in the Green Corner, however, for their breaks and lunch.

    One might argue that people “need” their chairs/stools to be more “comfortable”, while at work or to make their workplace more “pleasant”.

    A well-designed workplace will be both comfortable (No Muri) and also pleasant to work at (5-S’d and organized), without chairs, music, waterfalls and etc., that ARE NOT work-related.

    In the West, in the loosy Goosy companies, our Productivity, Quality, Safety, Cost and Customer Satisfaction are suffering because of wrong policies by Leaders and Managers, who either CANNOT logically convince their Team Members that music is NOT part of work, or do not want to headache that will have to potentially endure, while doing so.

    Not doing Standardization is another excuse for not wanting to disrespect people! Some rationalize that “as long as they give me the number of widgets I want per shift with an acceptable quality”, they can do it however they are comfortable doing it! Well,…..In my humble opinion, this is another way for the Manager to say: I don’t know how to Standardize OR, I don’t have the guts to hear someone say NO to me!

    In Toyota and Toyotas of the world, Respect for People is viewed from an angle, which the respect will be continuous and sustainable, meaning that they won’t have to bring the same person, who was afforded music at work, to the office and let him/her go, due to a major catasrophy that he/she caused, due to music distraction…

    • Comment in Bill Waddell’s Manufacturing Leadership Center Blog


      Interesting that you would conjure up a rather stretched rationalization for denying chairs and music as somehow showing Toyota’s Respect For People principle to this post, rather than addressing the collosal disrespect described in today’s post where BloomburgBusinessweek reported that only 1% of Toyota’s managers are female. It seems as though Toyota’s right to lecture on respect for people is rather thin.

      • The case for not imposing music on people at work is not stretched at all, and neither is the case for working standing. Making people work sitting for an entire shift is not doing them a favor. For a non-Toyota perspective, see “Sitting Kills” by NASA’s Joan Vernikos on the health consequences of sitting.

        I used to take it for granted that office work would be done sitting, but now, I am writing this standing, in front of a MacBook propped up 11 inches from the desk top by an Ikea coffee table with sawed-off legs. After trying this, I found out that not all office work has always been done sitting. My grandfather worked as a bookkeeper in the 1920s, standing. I also heard that Ernest Hemingway wrote all of his novels standing.

        The ratio of female managers you bring up has nothing to do with music or sitting. As far as I am concerned, this discussion is not about Toyota lecturing but about us learning useful things from them. They are just people who make cars; it never occurred to me to look to them for leadership on gender issues.

    • Comment on Bill Waddell’s Manufacturing Leadership Center blog:

      And my criticism is strictly assuming that ALL jobs for ALL people should be done either sitting or standing, with or without music. Jobs and people vary widely and good managers have the wisdom and will to address them one on one. The fact that you work well standing up hardly proves that everyone regardless of task does the same.

      The Toyota point is simply that I am no longer interested in hearing them propped up as exemplar of showing respect for people. They cannot be said to know the first thing about respecting people with 99% male management.

      • Production work is a collective endeavor and has to be performed in a standard way. The jobs should be designed to be doable at a consistent rate and quality from start to end of shift, by any healthy adult human being living in the area that provides the labor. This may include a 5′ tall, 55-year-old left-handed woman and a 6’4″ tall, 20-year old right-handed man.

        This, is, of course, a tall order. But there are rules that must apply across the board, including standing operations and not playing music. Exceptions are made for employees who temporarily or permanently have special needs.

        We now have high standards on gender equity issues, of recent vintage. But I wouldn’t want this to blind us to things we can learn that are unrelated to gender. Some of the translated Toyota literature refers to “respect for humanity” rather than “respect for people.”

        The expression “respect for people” implies courtesy and fairness to the individuals you deal with, but this is not my understanding of what they mean, which I believe is that, when you use people to do work, you should not forget what makes them different from machines. This means that you should not only use their time fully but also take advantage of their superior ability to observe, think, and learn. Being polite, fair, and sensitive helps, but it’s not what it is all about.

        Alfred P. Sloan’s GM of the 1920s through the 1940s was not exactly a model of gender or ethnic equity. Does that mean we should ignore Sloan’s ideas or philosophy? I don’t think so.

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