Should You Know Why Before You Know How?

The first article in Jill Jusko’s twice yearly “Top 10” Industry Week articles about Lean is her own Lessons in Lean Training, in which she quotes consultant Jon Armstrong as saying “individuals first need to know why before they know how. It’s important to start with the principles.” It sounds rational but it isn’t quite as obvious as it sounds. It’s an effective way to teach geometry but not English spelling. In geometry, you arrive at conclusions through logic; in spelling, you memorize arbitrary rules. You don’t learn to spell because of principles but because you won’t get the job you want with a misspelled resume.

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From Observation To Knowledge

Two weeks ago, 718,890 French 18-year olds spent four hours writing philosophical essays as part of the Bac nationwide exam they must pass to graduate High School. Among the topics offered to the humanities students was “Is observing enough to know?” They must elaborate on the meaning of the terms, argue for and against an answer, quote the philosophers they were taught, and draw conclusions. And it is written long-hand, without any illustrations or hyperlinks. I couldn’t compete with them, but this particular topic resonates with me because of my time observing factories.

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Productivity and Technology

Journalist Charles Duhigg has a new book out on the subject of productivity and was being interviewed about it on NPR. I heard him express as a general principle that new technology never increases productivity when first implemented because organizations and individuals use it as a new way of doing exactly what they were doing before. Over time, productivity does increases as users discover new tasks or methods that the technology enables but were beyond the imagination of its early adopters.

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The Cobot Controversy | Christian Hohmann

Christian Hohmann

The cobot controversy” is the title of a short article published by and on the Hannover Messe (“Hannover Fair”, the industry exhibition) website. […]This article proposes a “balanced” view about the impact of the collaborative robots (cobots) on the jobs in industry. It caught my interest because most often the articles on those subjects, i.e. robots and future of jobs are single-sided.

On the one hand promoters of the factory of the future, industry 4.0 and robotics only highlight the alleged benefits of the new technologies. On the other hand, prophets of doom predict nothing else than mass extinction of jobs.”

Sourced through Christian Hohmann’s blog

Michel Baudin‘s comments: This is the first of a series of posts on Christian’s blog about cobots, a term I hadn’t heard before that designates robots that collaborate with people. According to Wikipedia, the term was coined in 1996 by tow academics, J. Edward Colgate and Michael Peshkin, and has been used to designate commercial products since 2012. The concept, however, has existed independently of the term both in science-fiction and in real life.

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The Boeing 787 Development Story

Employees cheering 1st 787/10 in 2/2017

Today, the Boeing 787 is a successful product, with production rates at 12 units/month, and a total of 521 flying just over 5 years from launch. By comparison, in 49 years of production, Boeing built 1,528 units of the 747. And, having just flown in a 787 from San Francisco to Paris and back, I can attest that it was for me less tiring than in any other plane, which I attribute to the higher air pressure. It is close to that of Lake Tahoe (6225′) while other planes are closer to Squaw Valley High Camp (8200′).

Back in 2008-2011, however, the news coverage of the 787 was not so positive, as the plane’s product launch accumulated a delay of more than three years, with analysts pondering what had gone wrong. To keep this event in perspective, we should remember that multiyear delays in product launches have recently been the rule rather than the exception in commercial aircraft, worldwide. In Europe, the Airbus A380 was 2 years late and, in Russia, so was the regional Superjet 100. But the question remained of how Boeing, an organization with 100 years of experience in designing and building airplanes, could not have done better.

I would like to present here a few explanations that have been proposed, without passing judgment as to whether any or all of them are accurate.

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Capacity Planning For 1st-Responders

Early in my consulting career, working with Kei Abe, I was surprised to hear him make seemingly contradictory recommendations about the organization of maintenance in a small auto parts plant and in a large car assembly plant. In both, the managers were thinking of splitting the maintenance group into smaller teams, each dedicated to a production line.  In the parts plant, Kei Abe talked them out of it; in car assembly, he supported it. When I asked him why he just said: “the parts plant is too small.”

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Managers’ Knowledge: What Remains Once You Have Forgotten Everything

To what extent should managers be able to do the work of their subordinates? And, if they are, how should they use this ability? This is not a topic I have seen addressed in the management literature, perhaps because there are no generic answers. The manager of a car repair shop is typically a mechanic who can do everything the technicians can, but the manager of an opera company usually can’t sing.

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Teaching Adults: The Example Of New Plant Design

I have recently been involved in discussions of methods to teach adult learners and the ways if differs from teaching children or young adults. My personal experience is exclusively with adult professionals in a continuing education mode, and I provided examples from my recently most successful course, on New Plant Designdeveloped in 2005 at the request of the Hong Kong Productivity Council, and given more than 15 times in China since, and twice in Russia, although never in the US or Western Europe.

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How Does This All Play Out?

It is a seemingly simple question, but one that is not asked as often as it should be. It challenges managers to consider the responses of other stakeholders and think beyond immediate consequences. It checks their “bias for action,” and makes them take a pause to think farther than one move ahead.

If you outsource an item, for example, will the new supplier eventually morph into a competitor? What know-how might you lose? How will it affect employee morale? Are you putting your quality reputation at risk?  The question is an invitation to work through multiple scenarios of responses by your suppliers, your work force, and your customers, reaching into the future.

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