Somebody needs to stop these guys before they ruin any more factories. The latest out of Delphi comes from a strategy memo leaked to the Detroit News in which a scheme to close a number of plants and buy some more is laid out. The ‘vision’ driving the scheme is expressed in the memo in terms of a financial manager’s dream: a glowing headline in the Wall Street Journal.
Picking the Wall Street Journal for their vision bearer is sad. Instead of expressing the vision of how their success would be written up by the Kokomo Tribune or the Detroit News in terms such as "Delphi Back To Full Employment", they are driven by the the possibility of praise from stockbrokers. If there is any justice in the world, the bankruptcy judge will be sober enough to drive a stake through the heart of this nonsense before it goes much further.
I can’t tell you the name of the movie, who else was in it, or even give you the exact quote; but in some movie or another, Billy Bob Thornton uttered a line that went something like: "The thing about being smarter than everyone else is that you pretty much always know what is going to happen next. The only suspense in life is to see how long it takes everyone else to figure it out."
Now I cannot make a claim to be smarter than anyone, let alone everyone. I imagine all of the blog readers are pretty smart, but probably not smarter than everyone else. But we do know manufacturing, and we especially know a few things about lean manufacturing. So in that narrow arena, I think Billy Bob’s line is applies. All of this was easily foreseeable from a long way off: the bankruptcy, attacking labor as a the root of their problems, looking to GM, suppliers and the government to bear the brunt of their problems, now dreaming of manufacturing success through plant closings and acquisitions.
Delphi doesn’t matter. They are gone. Like a football team down by six touchdowns with two minutes left, all that remains is to run out the clock. The results are already known. The only unknown is how many more people get hurt before the travesty is over. For the lean community, however, they make for a great lab specimen. No matter what industry you are in, there are valuable insights to be gained by watching them go through their death throes.
Too many managers simply do not understand that lean manufacturing is all about management. They just don’t understand factories. That is particularly true at Delphi. They think manufacturing excellence can be bought through consultants or acquisitions; or simply dictated by top management fiat. Factories are not some independent beings, with lives of their own; nor are they something to be ‘controlled’. They are nothing more than a manifestation of management.
Management policies concerning investment dictate what machines will be bought. Management policies and practices determine what sort of people will be hired and how they will be compensated. The management function of production and inventory planning and control determines what will be made, when and in what quantities. The purchasing and engineering functions of management decide what materials will be used, who will provide them, when and in what quantities. Management’s establishment of performance measurements sets the priorities governing which of the thousands of manufacturing variables are to be optimized. Quality management policies dictate what will be invested in preventing defects, then how the plant will react to defects after they occur. Management sets the organizational chart, determining who has what authority to make which decisions. Management controls the information systems, which dictates what information will be available to who and when.
In total, management puts factories in a very small box, with very little wiggle room, and the factory simply executes according to policies with the resources provided.
Factories are as lean or as fat, as good or as bad, and as profitable or not as management drives them to be. The idea that a factory can be changed from fat to lean, while management remains the same is just plain silly. GM spun Delphi off, but Delphi has a ‘mini-me’ version of GM management. With the Delphi plants driven by a clone of GM management, it should have come as no surprise to anyone that Delphi’s manufacturing results were just about the same as if they had remained a part of GM. What could possibly have been the point of spinning it off, only to manage it just the same? Just who was naive enough to have expected different results?
Lean manufacturing failed to take root at Delphi for the same reason it fails in very many places. They thought they could keep managing just the same, but bring in an army of consultants to make the plants plants somehow different. It just don’t work that way. Lean management begets lean manufacturing. Traditional management begets traditional manufacturing.
I wrote a blog a few months back deriding Delphi for bringing in a lawyer to turn things around, rather than a manufacturing whiz. I was not suggesting they bring in a shop floor guy who knew a lot about setting up machines and configuring cells. Delphi already has plenty of very capable shop floor people. I was suggesting they bring in someone who understood manufacturing management. Instead they brought in someone who understood GM management.
I wrote another blog about Looking Lean versus Being Lean. Kanbans and cells look lean. Being lean is a function of management. It would never even cross the mind of a lean manufacturing manager to define success in terms of how the Wall Street Journal would see him.