He who doesn’t hear, sees nothing | Bodo Wiegand’s Watch

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  the June, 2013 issue of his newsletter,  Wiegand’s Watch:

When I was 12, my grandfather used to take me along on his “rounds,” as he called it.

We then had a foundry, where he did his “rounds” every day. Following my grandfather’s instructions to stay together, we walked hand in hand through the foundry operation itself, through mold and sand preparation, through the basement, etc. It took 1 ½ hours. Whenever something was wrong, he called Mr. Meier, Schmitz, or Schulte and asked “Why are there so many boxes?”, “Why is  the cigarette  there?” “Why is the aisle blocked?” “Why is the machine stopped?” “Why do we have a problem when casting?”  When employees ran around without glasses or helmets, there was real trouble.

But even when something that should have been finished was not,  or the clock was wrong, he intervened. At that time, I thought it capricious. Now I know how important personal protection gear is, and how important clocks and punctuality are.

His motto has always been: “If the clocks are wrong, no one can expect the people to be on time when you need them.With him there was absolutely no excuse for being late – but no one came late.

Back to the tour. He spoke with each supervisor, but only about problems – business but also human. Sometimes he stayed by a machine and listened. Then he called the head of maintenance, who usually said: “Yes, I’ve heard. We’ll take a look this week-end.”  I was always deeply impressed and tried to listen . Yet I could hear nothing. I could hear any difference until my grandfather told me what I should hear and the difference  with a machine that was working fine. Then I “heard” for the first and only time.

When became production manager in the forge, I remembered these tours and tried to think back to the individual details to hear and see. It took me a while before I could do this successfully.

The greatest praise I received in that position was from our maintenance manager, Mr. Hensing. When I called his attention to a noise that struck me as funny, he said: “It’s been a long time since anybody noticed.”

Well, why am I writing this? I have the feeling that we have forgotten how to hear and see, and to walk properly through the shop floor. I have a feeling that our supervisors and young managers have not learned to see, let alone hear or correctly make their rounds through operations, which implies seeing things and responding appropriately.

If I pass a cigarette butt on the ground or walk past a box with something in it that should not be there, then, as the saying goes: “What the boss tolerates or does not criticize is allowed”.

But if I want to change the mindset in my business and I am not an example, for example by tolerating waste, then I cannot expect employees to recognize and eliminate waste in their daily hard work. Therefore, I will not let this topic rest, and, to help, will make a virtual “Waste Walks” a centerpiece at the German Lean Summit of 24 to 26 October in Berlin to illustrate this topic from different angles.

Bodo Wiegand