Sunday, March 4, 2018

Lucy & Ethel Wrapping Chocolates: Would Someone Please Go to GEMBA for Crying Out Loud?

I am sure you ALL remember fondly the 1952 episode of the TV show "I Love Lucy" where Ricky Ricardo and Fred Mertz grew tired of their wives' spending habits. Ricky, Lucy, Fred and Ethel agreed to switch roles. Lucy & Ethel would go find a job, and Ricky and Fred would "take care of the house".  Lucy & Ethel go find a job in a chocolate factory, on an assembly line and quickly realize they need to do a little "kaizen" on the fly to keep up.

As a lean zealot (knucklehead), I find it necessary to watch this scene with an eye for improvement. Even though it's obvious the scene is for giggles, I can't help but think that there are some truths and some opportunities to be had. 

Lucy & Ethel find themselves early on in a fairly common predicament. They have been assigned to the "Wrapping Department" and their Team Leader seems to be a regular cheerleader in a torture chamber. Ethel indicates that she has already been "kicked out" of 3 previous departments. No surprise there if the coaching or training by the TL in wrapping is indicative of the entire chocolate factory! The TL gives a brief, basic 20,000 foot description (no demonstration) of the job and a poorly veiled threat. Following the threat, Miss Ratchet disappears to her office to check emails or maybe goes to a meeting somewhere. Lucy and Ethel are left without a goal. They do know that if a single chocolate gets by them, they're chocolate wrapping days are over.

Well, the conveyor belt starts. it is running at around 47 chocolates per minute, which means Lucy and Ethel need to wrap around 24 each minute. No sweat. This translates to 22,560 per day, or 5,414,400 per year. Whomever is running the conveyor decides on their own, without checking in with Lucy and Ethel, to jack up the speed of the line. This is obviously a good example of the king of the 8 wastes....overproduction. Overproduction is KING because it is the cause of many other of the wastes. In this case, motion, inventory (down the shirt, down the gullet, in the hat), defects (boxes will be short). Lucy & Ethel should be wearing tee shirts right now with the word "Bottleneck" on them.

Because Miss Ratchet wasn't at GEMBA at all, she does a flyover and ASSUMES all is well with Lucy and Ethel, and orders the belt to be sped up even more. Keep in mind that she has not watched Lucy & Ethel wrap even one chocolate! The belt is now running at an eye-popping 148 pieces per minute. This translates to 71,040 per day and 17,049,600 pieces of this chocolate over the course of a year. How much freakin candy is this company selling?

I'm not even going to touch carpal tunnel, burnout, overburden and all of that. Imagine working like that hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year? What happens when Lucy or Ethel are out sick or on vacation? Is Ratchet ready to jump in seamlessly? I'd pay anything to see her work at 148 pieces per minute for just one hour, and I'd give my left kidney to swap Ethel with the genius who controls the speed of the conveyor and let's see just how many chocolates he/she is capable of.

LEAN lesson: All of this could have been avoided if someone, ANYONE, went to the GEMBA (where the work is) for crying out loud.


  1. Miss Ratchet has a lot of splainen to do Billy.

    Couldn't resist, love the analogy.

    1. Lots of splainen William.
      Thank you so much for reading it