Sunday, July 19, 2015

The LEAN Taco Break

One of many, many advantages of doing lean for a living (as a certifiable(!) lean consultant is I am constantly reminded how much smarter others are than me. I have been at this lean thinking awhile now, and have been involved with THOUSANDS of A3 improvements (capital letters emphasizes a stupendous amount). Yet, many days, I just shake my head and say to myself, "why didn't I think of that?" Which brings me to my recent trip to Queretaro, Mexico.

The purpose of my trip was to teach Ulbrinox, Inc. how to use A3 as the foundation of a lean strategy and to plant the seeds for a spirit of kaizen. A3 is about learn by doing, and transferring responsibility for process improvements and problem solving to the people most qualified....the experts, the people who actually do the work. Keep in mind that no two lean journeys are the same, there is no cookie cutter template that will make the journey less painful. Duck your head, keep moving forward....the only wrong way is to do nothing. Your lean strategy will ultimately be defined by your unique company culture. Duraflex was not Toyota! and neither is Ulbrinox.

My goal was to introduce every employee to A3 and seed 6-8 good projects by the time I got back on a plane after 2 long days on the plant floor. As a bonus, I was treated to the incredible beauty of the region, the spotless cleanliness of their facility, as well as true hospitality, humility and respect for people. There were also 2 very significant (yet subtle) improvements to the A3 process itself that I plan on stealing I mean borrowing from now on. 

The process of A3 is kicked off by asking everyone to write one suggestion ( on an index card) of how they would improve their job if they owned the company. People write their name on the card, and the cards serve as the ticket for the one hour orientation. I then work with a manager or lean champion to help them pick the best suggestions to start with (eventually ALL will be used). Then the manager, lean champion or I will write the starter set of A3s on the A3 board. The first improvement to the A3 process itself was the suggestion made by Daniel Orozco that the A3 leader write the project on the board themselves, right from the beginning. This is subtle yet genius, because the transfer of ownership required to do true kaizen happens immediately. Sure enough, 8 A3 leaders marched over to the magnetic dry-erase A3 board in the middle of the plant and proudly gave their improvement a title (a problem statement) and wrote it themselves. Remember that the difference between A3 and a suggestion box is the willingness not to hand off an idea, but to take it and run with it with the help of a 3-5 person, temporary self-directed work team.This transfer of ownership is very significant because of the leadership being demonstrated for all to see.

The second innovation is a weekly meeting established by the General Manager (Cesar Medellin) with everyone who is currently leading an A3. Then, once per month, Cesar is hosting the "Lean Taco Break" with these leaders. One of the key accelerators of lean is the understanding by everyone that lean is very important to management. This cannot be delegated. You can't put out a memo or posters. Direct, regular involvement is how it is done. Managers must spend 15-20 minutes every single day asking people about their progress, and helping them through the DMAIC. Cesar understands this and is actually taking it to a whole new level. People will do what is important to management!

Dang, I wish I thought of those 2 things years ago!!

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