Thursday, March 30, 2006

Whadda ya do on a line stop...

Whadda ya do on a line stop...

...when all the right people are gone?

We had that experience today.

Our production team found a quality problem and stopped the line. Perfect. The signal went off. Perfect. They quickly detected the nature of the problem on a particular machine. Perfect.

Then, imperfection. The three people who could deal with the problem were gone, through a combination of vacations, travel and illness.

Quickly from perfection to panic.

I was in the middle of a significant meeting when an associate (correctly) interrupted to tell me the news of the problem and the absences. I suggested one other engineer in another department who MIGHT know how to fix the problem.

We all headed for the machine, on the floor. Three of us ended up there, none of us having the technical knowledge to bring the machine back to life. Yet production was shut down.

Chuck then went to the back of the machine, pulled up a stool and sat and looked. And looked. Then he called for us to do a test cycle from the front. Nothing. He sat and looked some more. Again the call. It worked.

Chuck came around to the front of the machine, laughing. "I fixed it. It'll stay fixed. Wanna see what I did?" By simply sitting and calmly looking at a bunch of wires and switches, he made sense. And saw one adjustment on a motor that had slowly vibrated loose. In the four years we've had this machine, this problem has never occured.

Chuck interrupted his work in an entirely different department to help us out. He didn't have to help, yet he did.

When we read the books on how to respond to a line stop, there are always people to respond. They hustle, fix the problem within one takt cycle or pull the offending unit off line. And then ride off into the sunset.

It doesn't always work that way. Like today. When trust and cooperation and just a can-do spirit has to prevail over the intended (perfect) problem solving paradigm. In a small company (and I suspect in large ones too) this is always a possible outcome.

People make systems work. And when the system breaks down, people still work. Building good relationships, broad shared objectives and a just plain likeable spirit is so key.

Chuck laughed as we headed out of production. "I'll send you my consulting invoice! A Dr. Pepper and some Jelly Bellies!"

Yeah, I picked those up on my way home tonight...they'll be waiting for him at his desk in the morning.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Waste in Bad Messaging

Waste in Bad Messaging

Whoa, a post from the missing-in-action Learning About Lean guy??  Yeah, I’m still here and working through an incredibly fascinating and hectic stage of growth.  I’ve simply not chosen to blog much in the face of major priorities.  But, I’m coming to the surface and will be back more now.


Two fellows I respect blogged yesterday on an important issue, triggering this post.


Hal Macomber writes on Explaining Misunderstanding.  Hal urges us to carefully consider how we communicate and not just blurt or act our way along. Instead, we need to both reflect and then be inquisitive, asking good questions to understand. 


Tom Peters writes on the odds of getting anything right.  Using the unlikely scenario of little-known George Mason getting to the finals of the NCAA Basketball tournament, Peters points out how each level of communication lowers the likelihood that we will achieve what we wanted to achieve. 


Taken together, with Tom arguing for decreasing the number of layers and Hal arguing for reflection and curiosity, here is a powerful argument for going directly to the people involved in a decision and then taking enough time to understand how a proposal comes across.  Most of us have to fight nature to do this…and it’s worth the fight.