Category Archives: One Man’s Lean Journey

One Man’s Lean Journey: Respect People and They Will Fight for You

RCA_TVMy internship with Thomson Consumer Electronics (TCE) gave me a lot of learning opportunities. One of the biggest learnings I had was around people.

The assignment was to oversee the completion of rebuilding several hundred television sets. This was back in the day of picture tubes and rear projection TVs. The sets would be sold in discount shops across the country.

The manufacturing facility was well known for its union and their insanity to horn-swaggle the company. The assignment typically takes 7-8 weeks. I was given a union crew and the production area was set up a good 1/4 mile from the nearest production area.

The first week went bye with no problem. Then in the second week we started encountering hiccups in our production. The typical stuff. We didn’t have the parts we needed, there was no one to move the product for us and even some good old-fashioned infighting in the group.

I pulled the team together and we discussed not having the parts we needed. I asked them how we should be producing the TVs. What sequence would work best? They commented they had never been asked for their ideas before. The team came up with a sequence based on their knowledge and a process to get the parts. Every afternoon, one of the employees and I would look at what we have completed and look at what was next on the schedule and determine what parts we would need. I would drive my car over the main plant, gather the parts with the employee and help her carry them back to my car.

I addressed the issue with fighting employees as well. We had one-on-ones and worked through their issues of working together.

Our production rate sky-rocketed. It was almost double what I was told we would be able to do based on past history.

Then came the bombshell. One afternoon, a union steward showed up in my area and proceeded to yell at me in the middle of the production area so everyone could hear. Apparently, helping someone carry heavy boxes so they don’t get hurt and helping my employees move TVs is going to put the union out of a job. He was threatening to file a grievance against me.

Being 21-years-old, I didn’t take too kindly to the yelling, especially in front of the employees. So, I proceeded to yell right back about how I will do whatever it takes to help my employees get the work done and he could….well you can use your imagination for the rest.

It wasn’t 45 minutes later, my manager for this project was out there trying to cool me off and telling me to play the union game. I was shocked at how quickly he collapsed to the union. Ridiculous! Truly pissed me off. I told him that if he wanted me to stop then the union needs to stop delaying my work.

This is a lot of back story to get to this. The union employees on my team went to the union head and got the steward to back off. When I asked them why they would do that, the response was “Because we like working for you and you stuck up for us. We should stick up for you.”

My parents had always instilled in me to treat everyone with respect. And this was a moment where that lesson truly became ingrained in me forever.

We finished the project in 4.5 weeks. Almost half the expected time. As a thank you, I gave them a half day “off” where we hung out in our production area and I bought pizza for the team. It really was something I will never forget.


* People appreciate being treated with respect more than anything else you could give them
* Involve the people in improving the work and they will work hard to make sure it gets implemented properly
* Once people feel safe in giving ideas, then the floodgates will open

One Man’s Lean Journey: Exposure to SMED and Shigeo Shingo

My lean journey has taken a very common path. I started out learning the lean tools and concepts. Then I evolved to learning how the tools and concepts fit together to create a system that relied on people behaving differently than I was used to seeing. Finally, I was enlightened and understood the thinking that was behind it all and why it works.

For me, I was fortunate enough that my lean journey started back in college. I wish Purdue had incorporated more lean into their Industrial Engineering program, but it didn’t. My lean experience came from my four year internship with Thomson Consumer Electronics. It was a great experience. I would work full time for the company for a semester and then go back to school for a semester. It was a program Purdue had designed with several companies.

My manger at TCE had read books by Shigeo Shingo, specifically A Revolution in Manufacturing: The SMED System. During my second semester with the company, he required all of his interns read the book. The manufacturing geek in me found it absolutely fascinating. I couldn’t wait to put some of the SMED techniques into practice.

My first opportunity to use SMED was in our injection molding house. I worked with a group of machine technicians to reduce the changeover of molding tools. This was a good first opportunity. Shingo had discussed very similar machinery in his book, so it was easier to translate to this actual application. We were able to reduce the changeover time from three hours to one and a half hours. A 50% reduction. I was excited at the time, but looking back now we were still a long way off.

My second opportunity was more a learning because it was on a manual paint booth in one of TCE’s facilities. I had to translate how it would work based on my own understanding. I decided to use videotaping this time. I video taped the changeover on second shift. I was on the road and it was a last minute project. This didn’t go so well. I was able to make my manager laugh hysterically when we watched the playback of the changeover. At one point it became lunch time for the crew so they dropped everything and left. I kept the tape rolling so I could time the downtime. I didn’t have a tripod and got bored quickly, so there is a period where I am spinning and dancing around the area with nobody around. I was loopy by 1AM. We did get a 30% reduction in changeover time so it wasn’t all bad, but the last minute planning definitely showed. Plus, we didn’t included anyone from the facility in the redesign.

It was years before I reflected on these two SMED events and changed my approach.

* Proper planning in advance is critical to a successful SMED event. If you are videotaping, get a tripod. More importantly, how are you going to document the changeover? What is the current changeover time and push to reduce by 75%

* Always include people who are involved in the changeover in the SMED event. Their insights and buy-in is critical to sustaining the gains.

One Man’s Lean Journey – Introduction

I spent a couple of years reading blogs before jumping and starting my own. I have met some great people over that time and learned a lot about myself and others. The biggest thing I have learned is that I am not alone in the trials I have faced when learning, teaching, coaching and implementing lean. Many of us out there have come across similar scenarios and personality types and can relate to each other.

I have had a lot of people reach out to me through the blog. They want to talk about something they are struggling to implement or change and want to bounce ideas around. I do enjoy the fact that people can learn from each other so hopefully they don’t have to make the same mistakes that others already have. That was one of the original ideas around starting Beyond Lean.

Over the last year, I have been thinking about how I can continue to help others from my learnings. Did I have this reflection because of my lean background? Maybe. Did I reflect because I always tell my kids about the good old days? Probably. Was it because I am almost 40 and wonder where the time went? Most likely.

So, this is the first post in a new series called “One Man’s Lean Journey.” The posts will chronicle my lean journey from the start. History, stories, lessons learned from the very beginning. I didn’t make the decision to do this easily. I don’t want it to come across as something that says, “I’m different and it should be documented why for others.” Quite the opposite. It is because I know the learning and lean understanding path I have had is very similar to many other people. I hope people nod their head as they read as a “yep, I get what you mean and I have lived that.” A way to let people know they aren’t the only ones out there experiencing the difficult journey of implementing lean.

The series will be mixed in with other posts of like the ones you might be accustomed to seeing on Beyond Lean. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for being readers of the Beyond Lean Blog.