I just started reading Rude Awakening: The Rise, Fall, and Struggle for Recovery of General Motors, written by Maryann Keller. It was published in 1989, so it’s not a new book by any stretch. A lot has happened to GM in the past 31 years. But it’s an interesting read for anyone interested in learning more about how big companies manage to screw things up in spite of having lots of resources at their disposal.
At any rate, the book discusses the bad days at the nearby (to me) Lordstown plant back in the 1970’s. That led me to the interwebs to learn more about all that, where I found the 1973 documentary Loose Bolts. (Click on this link.)
It’s about 30 minutes or so long and worth a viewing. The production values aren’t great but the interviews with some of the workers and supervisors at the plant are interesting to hear, especially given that they took place shortly after the three-week strike at the plant.
As one learns more about the conditions and management approach at Lordstown, it’s hard not to conclude that GM purposefully created intolerable conditions expressly for the purpose of engendering a strike.
In Part 1, we talked about the “why” of quick change. In Part 2, we started the discussion of “how” to get to quick change. In particular, we talked about gathering some information about the current state of setups and changeovers, e.g., how long they take and how they’re carried out. In Part 3, we’re going to talk about what to do with that information.
I used to send IW articles about lean. But I’ve switched to covering corporate culture, change management, and employee engagement morale. Thus the two articles on culture and morale. With more to come.
There are a couple of reasons for this…
First, I cover lean here and in my email so I don’t have many ideas left for IW. I’d often go a year or two between submissions to IW about lean.
Second, lean is covered quite well by Larry Fast. I’ve linked to a couple of his IW articles here. He’s about the best I’ve read. (Lonnie Wilson, Jamie Flinchbaugh, and James Shook also come mind as better than average writers on the topic.) So I figured I’d leave the IW lean turf to him.
I always like reading about the winners of Industry Weeks’s Best Plant Awards. I especially like reading about winners from what we often think of as “rust belt” industries. That’s decidedly the case for the Accuride Wheel End Solutions plant in Rockford, IL. (Here’s the link to the story to learn more about the plant and why it won the award.)
This particular story caught my eye because an Accuride plant here in NE Ohio was a client of mine about, oh, 15 years ago back when I worked for Work In Northeast Ohio Council. That plant machined and finished truck wheels that were forged in Erie, PA. That plant also would never, ever have been able to win any kind of “best plant” award. As a matter of fact, it was the single worst plant I’ve ever worked with.
The plant floor was usually covered in water, while most of the machines had their electric panels open with fans blowing on them in an effort to keep them from overheating. Yeah, I was always pretty nervous walking around the plant. Such meetings as I had with management (the plant manager would regularly schedule meetings with us, then conveniently be “out of the plant” when the scheduled time came) showed me that the leadership team just wasn’t competent. (Strangely enough, the plant was ISO certified.)
All this is to say that I’m happy to see that Accuride (the Rockford Plant, at least) has gotten its act together. The company president mentioned in the article, Rick Dauch, was not in place at the time I worked with Accuride. (In fact, it looks as if the entire leadership team has changed. The company now has a VP of Quality and Lean) Rick’s dad wrote a book, American Drive: How Manufacturing Will Save Our Country, that related the story of his turnaround of American Axle in Detroit. Richard Sr. was an early proponent and implementer of employee participation and lean principles.
I distinctly recall meetings with the plant management team and the President and Vice Presidents of Operations and Human Resources in which we nearly begged them to consider implementing a broad array of lean principles and methods. (We were there to help develop operator task instructions.) We were pretty much ignored. It appears that it took a complete changeover of leadership to implement what my colleagues at WINOC and I were proposing 15 years ago. Better late than never, I suppose.
And that plant that we worked at here in NE Ohio? It’s gone.
OK, I don’t actually want you to altogether forget about lean. I do want you to get rid of the notion (if you ever had it) that lean is a tool bag of tricks and techniques for wringing a few bucks out of your manufacturing processes or for getting another percentage point of efficiency from your employees. There are ways of achieving those ends if that’s what you want but lean ain’t it. Rather, lean is all about creating a smooth, consistent, predictable flow of information and materials through your organization. I found a couple of good articles that reinforce my thinking that I want you to check out.