Bodo Wiegand Up Close and Personal with Forklifts

Bodo Wiegand heads the Lean Management Institute, which is the German affiliate of the Lean Enterprise Institute. The following is a translation from German of a large excerpt from his  September, 2012 newsletter,  Wiegand’s Watch:

Lately I was again guided through a company that is Lean – according to its manager. How could I argue with him? After the obligatory tour he was quite euphoric when he asked me: “It’s Lean, right? What do we still need to do? ”

Well, what do you  tell someone who had a super-neat and great looking production line? 5S at its best, so to speak. But he had led me from front to back rather than back to front through the production process. And he was also proud of his warehouse, which he described as a very Lean supermarket. Then he showed the wonderfully marked transportation aisles, which turned out as freeways for forklifts. Everything was transported out of  the supermarket at maximum speed.

I asked him to take us to a place where you could see the whole production. Painstakingly, we then climbed onto a platform created earlier for the crane operator. Well, there we stood and took a look at his beautifully tidy company. Also from there you could see how much effort and energy was put into the 5S action, executed almost to perfection.

But then from the air we could see things that weren’t running so well. After 10 minutes with this a bird’s eye view, he still hadn’t noticed anything. So I asked him to put the forklifts on break for one hour. Soon he saw what happened. Some areas had used up their supplies in 20 minutes, while others were still not through with their stock after one hour.

The penny dropped. “Gee, Mr. Wiegand, it’s clear that not everything is matched.”

“Yes,” I said, “there is no flow in your production.”

The forklift traffic masked everything and made the production appear clean. No crates stood around, everything was in the supermarket. It balanced everything and covered the essentials. So, let’s not be fooled by operations without materials or nice tidy 5S islands of bliss. Believe nothing, without having seen and walked the value stream. Only then will you learn what is really going on.Afterward, we discussed flow kaizen intensively. At the end, he admitted that he wanted to test me, and that he really just wanted to have  the seal of approval as and audited Lean company. But the manager could not have known that I don’t like forklifts.