Sunday, December 16, 2012

What I Learned in My Lean Class

OK. I've been a so-called "captain" of industry. Helped grow a manufacturing business. Led the development of employees. Led the development of  a product line. Traveled all over meeting customers, made lifelong friends in the process, helped them solve problems. Interpreted "lean" in my twisted mind, and developed my own way of integrating the lean philosophy into the culture. 

Started a one man consulting business. Made more friends. Seeing some very cool improvements. On the floor, working with people. Coaching like crazy.

My friend, Dr. Paul Resitarits, Professor Extraordinaire at Central Connecticut State University (Manufacturing and Construction Management Department), asked me in August if I could help him by teaching a Lean class. Easy!!! College kids? If I remember correctly, they drink beer, fall asleep in class then go on Spring Break. I could just show up, show them some tools. Do a Power Point or two. Done.

The first time I met them, I asked them to stand up, tell me who they were, what their experience in manufacturing and lean was, and why they enrolled. Right then and there I knew I was in trouble.

Nearly all of them were working either full time or 20-30 hours per week as interns. Most have participated in lean initiatives at their companies. Most already knew the tools   Many were finalists for corporate scholarships and were top candidates for full time employment upon graduation. Two were in Afghanistan and Iraq, and were back pursuing careers in manufacturing leadership. One has his own web site building business. Another was leading a group of other Engineering students in building a race car from scratch. Two commuted from Stratford to New Britain for class, sometimes sitting in traffic for an hour or more. In the words of Scooby Doo, Rut Row.

I knew after the first class that I could not mail this in. I would need to come well prepared. I also knew it was an opportunity to spend 35-40 hours giving these terrific people an inside look at how to weave lean into your culture and make it the foundation of your business strategy.  

Thankfully, I was smart enough to dig deeper into their experiences. Each week, a volunteer would get up for 20-30 minutes, prepare a presentation, and teach their peers (and me) a first hand, real life application of a lean tool.  Without fail, I would say to myself after every presentation, "I'd hire him in a minute".

I learned that the future of manufacturing is in great shape. No doubt, these are the future business owners, operations managers and lean champions of tomorrow. I learned that CCSU students are highly motivated and well prepared. I learned that basic lean is a starting point for these students and is well understood. I learned that you'd better work hard if you hope to impact or inspire  them. I also learned that if given the opportunity again, I'd jump again.

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