Feb 24 2015
Jul 30 2014
Various organization put out studies that, for example, purport to “identify performances and practices in place among U.S. manufacturers.” The reports contain tables and charts, with narratives about “significant gaps” — without stating any level of significance — or “exponential growth” — as if there were no other kind. They borrow the vocabulary of statistics or data science, but don’t actually use the science; they just use the words to support sweeping statements about what manufacturers should do for the future.
At the bottom of the reports, there usually is a paragraph about the study methodology, explaining that the data was collected as answers to questionnaires mailed to manufacturers and made available on line, with the incentive for recipients to participate being a free copy of the report. The participants are asked, for example, to rate “the importance of process improvement to their organization’s success over the next five years” on a scale of 1 to 5.
The results are a compilation of subjective answers from a self-selected sample. In marketing, this kind of surveys makes sense. You throw out a questionnaire about a product or a service. The sheer proportion of respondents gives you information about the level of interest in what you are offering, and the responses may further tell you about popular features and shortcomings.
But it is not an effective approach to gauge the state of an industry. For this purpose, you need objective data, either on all companies involved or on a representative sample that you select. Government bodies like the Census Bureau or the Bureau of Labor Statistics collect useful global statistics like value-added per employee or the ratio indirect to direct labor by industry, but they are just a starting point.
Going beyond is so difficult that I don’t know of any successful case. Any serious assessment of a company or factory requires visiting it, interviewing its leaders in person, and reviewing its data. It takes time, money, know-how, and a willing target. It means that the sample has to be small, but there is a clash between the objective of having a representative sample and the constraint of having a sample of the willing.
For these reasons, benchmarking is a more realistic approach, and I know of at least two successful benchmarking studies in manufacturing, both of which, I believe, were funded by the Sloan Foundation:
- The first was the International Assembly Plant Study, conducted in the late 1980s about the car industry, whose findings were summarized in The Machine That Changed The World in 1990. The goal was not to identify the distribution of manufacturing practices worldwide but to compare the approaches followed in specific plants of specific companies, for the purpose of learning. Among other things, the use of the term “Lean” came out of this study.
- The second is the Competitive Semiconductor Manufacturing Program, which started in the early 1990s with a benchmarking study of wafer fabrication facilities worldwide. It did not have the public impact of the car assembly plant study, but it did provide valuable information to industry participants.
The car study was conducted out of MIT; the semiconductor study, out of UC Berkeley. Leadership from prestigious academic organizations helped in convincing companies to participate and provided students to collect and analyze the data. Consulting firms might have had better expertise, but could not have been perceived as neutral with respect to the approaches used by the different participants.
The bottom line is that studies based on subjective answers from a self-selected sample are not worth the disk space you can download them onto.
May 21 2014
“Myth 1. All manufacturing companies need the same things — low-cost labor, access to raw materials and markets, and a favorable business environment.
Myth 2. Trade and offshoring drove the decline in manufacturing in the U.S.
Myth 3. Manufacturing employment means assembly line work.
Myth 4. Manufacturing employment can someday return to historic peak levels.”
See on www.washingtonpost.com
Apr 29 2014
In an earlier post we saw a message from Stalin to a factory manager that showed his way of motivating employees. Now Youtube has the following video illustrating Vladimir Putin’s approach to manufacturing:
The video was first posted on Youtube on 2/17/2012, when Putin was Prime Minister and running for President in the election that took place on 3/4/2012. The event took place three years earlier, and was reported in the New York Times on June 4, 2009. It happened at the Baselcement factory, which makes alumina, in Pikalevo, 150 miles East of Saint-Petersburg. The video was obviously not taken with a hidden camera; it was a deliberately staged event.
Putin comes to this cement factory, berates the managers for being unprepared, and “running around like cockroaches when I said I was coming.” He tells the owners that they are “unprofessional and greedy,” and then that this factory, which we didn’t know was closed, would be restarted “one way or another,” and without the owners if they didn’t cooperate.
One of the owners in the room is Oleg Deripaska, a rich businessman and political ally of Putin. Putin has an agreement in hand, that is apparently missing Deripaska’s signature, which he demands. The last touch, after Deripaska signs is Putin demanding his pen back, which seems intended as a counterpoint to the White House signing ceremonies where the US President gives away pens.
Seeing the confidence with which Putin passed judgement on manufacturing issues, I assumed it was based on his own extensive experience. The wikipedia article on him, however, only mentions 16 years in the KGB prior to entering politics.
In the video, we see what appears to be a cheap nerd watch on billionaire Deripaska’s wrist. The same watch is prominent on his home page, and has to be there on purpose. If Deripaska has a Rolex, he keeps it out of the public eye.
Mar 20 2014
“[…]The problem is the culture doesn’t change overnight. Leaders have years or decades of old habits (bad habits) that run counter to Lean thinking. They might be (might!) be trying to change, but people will still fall back into old habits, especially when under pressure.
I hear complaints (in recent cases) coming from different provinces in Canada that say things like:
Lean is causing hospitals to be “de-skilled” by replacing nurses with aides. Lean drives a focus on cost and cost cutting, including layoffs or being understaffedLean is stressing out managers by asking them to do more and taking nothing off their plateNurses hate Lean because they aren’t being involved in changes[…]”
In this post, Mark Graban explains how the leadership in Canadian hospitals is slapping the “Lean” label on ancient and counterproductive “cost-cutting” methods, and how the victims of these practices unfairly blame Lean.
This is definitely L.A.M.E., Mark’s apt term for “Lean As Misguidedly Executed,” and is found in Manufacturing as well as Health Care. Much of the article — and of the discussion that follows — is about what I call yoyo staffing: you hire more than you should in boom times, and lay off in recessions.
Of course, it isn’t what Toyota did, and churning your work force in this fashion not only disrupts people’s lives but is bad business. Hiring, training and firing repeatedly prevents your organization from accumulating the knowledge and skills it needs.
Mark makes the case that Lean should not be blamed for mistakes that have nothing to do with it. Other than raising consciousness, however, the post does not propose solutions to keep this from happening.
While there have been studies published on Toyota’s approach to Human Resources (HR), I don’t recall seeing much in the American Lean literature on topics like career planning for production operators.
In his comments, Bob Emiliani paints the current generation of leaders as “a lost cause,” and places his hopes on the next. He seems to suggest that the solution is to wait out or fire the current, baby-boomer leadership and replace it with millenials. I don’t buy it and, deep down, neither does Bob, because he ends by saying “While one always hopes the “next generation will do better”, it could turn out to be a false hope.”
Like everything in HR, generational change has to be planned carefully. The people who rose to leadership positions presumably did so not just because of bad habits but because they also had something of value to offer. And the way the baton is passed is also a message to the incoming leaders: it tells them what to expect when their turn comes.
See on www.leanblog.org
Feb 12 2014
See on Scoop.it – lean manufacturing
“There is a company I know well that will remain nameless that has about 300 employees, and they manufacture stuff on Vancouver Island – Just outside of Victoria, British Columbia. The major markets for their products are gradually shifting from the Northwestern USA and western Canada to the Southeastern USA. That puts them about 2,400 miles as the crow flies from more and more of their customers, but since crows can’t take their products to market it is actually a lot farther than that.
Closing their plant has never been an option. They simply accept the fact that manufacturing on an island is never good, and being that far from their customers is a huge disadvantage, so they have no choice (at least no choice they are willing to consider) but to tighten their chinstraps and do that much better to overcome their geographic problems….”
See on www.idatix.com