Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What a LEAN Learning Organization Looks Like

Keep your eye on Ulbrich Shaped Wire (www.ulbrichshapedwire.com) of North Haven, Connecticut. A division of a business started by the Ulbrich family in 1924, USW has been at it for over 40 years, and they don't do EASY. USW shapes wire to each of their customer's own specifications to incredibly tight tolerances. They are also evolving into a true LEArNing organization.

According to the architect of the Toyota System, Taiichi Ohno, the greatest compliment you can give any organization is that it is a true LEARNING Organization. USW, under the guidance of Chris Deconti, is very quickly headed down that road.  In addition, USW consists of an extremely experienced, smart group of people. People with 20, 30, even 40 years of expertise. And they're still learning, and teaching. They have the potential to be a competitor's worst nightmare. People who can do hard things very FAST.

Ohno's original intent of kaizan was a spirit of experimentation that was woven into the people who actually do the work. Small, continuous steps toward flow, every day, every shift. Not events led by black belts. Not a handful of "events". As of yesterday, tiny USW had 13 active kaizan events. Improving processes, removing wastes, teaching their peers. In addition, there are daily katas (routines) that are standard work where peope have a chance to THINK together. For example, in the photo above, Tony Pires (who I call the Chief Engineer at USW) is explaining to a group of people the status of one of their value streams, annealing. Status of orders, capacity, productivity, problems and TPM are all extremely visible on what they call their preactor boards. One of these boards exists in every value stream. And the person who runs the area gives the update. EVERY morning at 7:30, groups of people review where the company IS, what's important now, and where they need to go. On the floor, not in a conference room.

One of the things I love about a company like USW is the pace of change, and how the culture drives it. In companies that merely do lean (the tools), you have to sometimes ask, "what's new here?". At companies that understand the Toyota Production System (learning organizations) you don't have to ask. In my role of helping Profit Miners (www.profitminersinc.com) (Tom Burmeister), I have been going to USW on Tuesdays, and every single Tuesday, as I walk into the plant in the morning, it doesn't take me more than 5 minutes to see something that has completely changed from the week before.

Like I said, keep your eye on little Ulbrich Shaped Wire of North Haven, Connecticut.  

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