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Book Review: The Lean Turnaround

Art Byrne is an execute that has been implementing lean in several companies around the world.  He started our with GE and gained experience with Danaher Corp before becoming the CEO of Wiremold where their lean turnaround is featured in the book “Better Thinking, Better Results“.  Since leaving Wiremold Art has used lean to turnaround companies as a partner with J.W. Childs Associates.  Art brings his vast experience to the readers.

Lean_Turnaround_CoverName of the Book:  The Lean Turnaround: How Business Leaders Use Lean Principles to Create Value and Transform Their Company

Author: Art Byrne

Publication Date:  2012

Book description: what’s the key message?

Art really drives home the message about a company can only be truly lean if the leaders are setting an example and leading the way.  A lean executive does not dictate what others need to go do.  A lean executive does it himself.

Also, the executives have to transform the people.  Get everyone to buy-in from the shop floor to the executive suite.  There is no room for people that won’t buy-in.  In order to do this, as the leader you need to engage in the change and lead it.  Not support it.

Art lays out his principles to follow to becoming lean:

  • Work to Takt Time
  • Create one piece flow
  • Utilized Standard Work
  • Connect Customers to Work by Using a Pull System

What are the highlights? What works?

Art does a fantastic job of giving multiple examples of how he engaged employees and led the change even as a CEO.  This brings to life how it can be done and the thought isn’t some dream a consultant made up.

I really like how Art lays out obstacles to achieving his lean principles.  Accounting and standard costing is the biggest obstacle because it can show a negative result or cause bad decisions when doing things that are helping.  He then explains the changes that are needed and gives examples of the changes and how the finances would look different.

There are more examples of other metrics that Art recommends for a lean company.

Another powerful section of the book is how he used lean to grow businesses and profits even during tough economic times. Art even lays out a strategy for looking at companies when thinking about acquisitions.

The real life examples as a CEO and board member of companies really drives how a lean turnaround can be achieved.  A CEO must do a 180 from the traditional methods to do it and a leap of faith will be needed, but the reward is very high.

What are the weaknesses?  What’s missing?

This is a really good book, but I do see one thing missing.  Art speaks from a CEO or executive viewpoint, which is great, but what if you aren’t an executive?

One question I would like to see answered is how do lower level employees help executives want to do a lean turnaround?  Sure, one answer could be give them the book, but that probably won’t change everyone’s mind with just a single read.  How do you help an executive that seems to want to do it, do it?  Give them that final push and really start to see the benefits?

The book can also give the feeling that if you don’t have an executive leading and doing everything in the book then you might as well not go through with lean because you won’t be successful.  Art does not say that explicitly.  The book just gives that feeling.

How should I read this to get the most out of it?

I recommend this book for anyone but especially high level level executive or CEO.  Art lays out a great game plan and a compelling case for the executives to transform their work and create a lean turnaround.  Read the book straight through and then re-read it as you develop a plan to change your company.

I would also recommend it for more Wallstreet and finance people.  It would enlighten them on how to look at companies that deliver long term value to their customers.  Not just short term gains.

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GE Appliances Going Lean

I have not been very high on GE as a company.  I have dealt with too many command-and-control managers that came from GE and Jack Welch I think is the single most overrated CEO in history.  He destroyed GE’s manufacturing to gain his golden parachute.

It has taken awhile but GE seems to be making strides in a great direction.  A year or so ago, GE announced the building of a manufacturing complex in Louisville, KY dedicated to building their appliance lines using lean manufacturing.

An article last week highlighted some of the reasons and the results from the first venture in GE’s new dishwasher plant.  My favorite heading in the article is “Washing Away Decades of Outdated Manufacturing Practices”.  AMEN!!!

So what did GE hope to accomplish by investing $150 million in the new facility?

When planning to make GE’s newest dishwashers, the manufacturing leaders had several challenges: to build new production lines in a space-constrained factory where existing lines would keep providing about one in every five homes with a dishwasher; to create a process that would leverage Lean manufacturing principles to reduce the time it takes to make each dishwasher; to reduce operational costs and unnecessary work for employees to improve productivity while increasing quality.

They needed to reduce cost and delivery time and increase quality.  Something lean can help improve all of.  Not one while sacrificing others.

How was lean going to help?

Relying on a new culture of continuous improvement and a collaborative work environment, fostered by Lean manufacturing principles, GE took employees from every discipline needed to design, build and operate the new lines and co-located them in one location so communication could be instantaneous and fluid. Each member of the team had a voice and a role–from engineering, to advanced manufacturing to the operators who assemble the products – all were on one team with a common goal – to improve the processes and products.

Great ideas and they seem to be working very well.  The results listed in the article are incredible.  Here are just one bullet point listed as a result.

Included production workers in the designing of work stations and processes, improving efficiency and ergonomics by reducing parts inventories and movements to complete tasks; in developing new job instructions to help eliminate quality issues and improve safety; and in improving the timely supply of parts to work stations. As a result, the overall production time per unit was reduced by about 65 percent.

Great to see the employees doing the work involved in the improvement process.  With all the great results this is what I was the most happy to read.

Now, their dishwashers will be loaded with more U.S. parts than ever before. In fact, about 85 percent of the parts in GE new dishwashers will be made in the U.S. — including an increased number made at Appliance Park in Louisville, Ky

It shows that manufacturing close to the consumer in a “high cost” country can be competitive in any industry.  Kudos to GE for attempting to change their manufacturing ways.