Have you thought recently about how the internet has changed the world? I’m dating myself, but I do remember playing Pong in high school, feeding IBM cards into the central computer at college and then stopping by the next morning to see if my elaborate program really averaged five numbers, and using an Apple Lisa to type engineering reports at my first job. The "telecopier" was a novelty, and it would still be many years before I got my first Prodigy email account to use on my 8 mHz computer… of course I had to play with the volume on the modem to try to get it to connect at a full 300 baud.
More importantly, think about how computers and especially the internet have changed the nature of learning. During my early career days I had to order books, read trade magazines, or travel to learn about new technologies or methods. If I was lucky I’d get a Betamax tape of a training presentation.
Fast-forward to today, and take a look at the graphic on the right. That is straight from our blog reporting system and is a snapshot of where visitors came from just in the past couple hours. The distribution is very similar to what our friends at other lean-oriented blogs also report, and to what we see with the Superfactory website.
Now think about it in the context of a person finding and reading this blog… at 10pm here in California, 1am in Boston, 12am in Lima, 7am in Johannesburg, 3pm in Sydney, 2am in Brasilia, 6am in Lagos, and 8am in Bucharest. Those are people who are interested enough in lean (or in Bill’s witty prose…?) to want to learn more. That person in Maputo or Arequipa or Mumbai is learning how to take waste out of his or her operation, how to optimize value, how to create and engage a dynamic and creative workforce, and how to harness the power and magic of lean.
That person is your competitor.
Many of you have already read co-blogger Bill Waddell’s book, Rebirth of American Industry. But if you haven’t, you should at least read this excerpt, Blind to the Opportunities. With people from all over the world learning how to be extremely competitive, you cannot afford to be blind. If you are playing the in-vogue game of chasing low labor costs all over the globe, you will lose. If you still believe that buying bigger and bigger machines will make your costs decrease, you will lose. If you worship the false god of the almighty algorithm, you will lose. If you are spending millions on automation without having a solid understanding of takt time, you will lose.
We are going to China to save labor costs when one-piece-flow, properly implemented, will cut labor costs drastically. Recently, I visited a plant where five people were standing in what looked like a one-piece-manufacturing cell, But, the workers stood in front of their machines waiting for a part to be handed to them. If the workers were multi-skilled and simply walked along the cell, they easily could have reduced the number of people from five to two without having to go to China to save labor. Toyota discovered that focusing on improving labor productivity, within the constraint of takt, was much more advantageous than focusing on machine efficiency.
Shigeo Shingo presented a paper at a technical conference conducted by the Japan Management Association in 1946 entitled “Production Mechanism of Process and Operation”. It was based on the principle that optimizing the overall production process – the complete sequence of operations that take a product from raw material to completion – is the key to manufacturing. To quote Shingo, “Improvement of process must be accomplished prior to improvement of operation.”
Your competitors, from all over the globe, are up at all hours of the day and night learning about lean and how to improve their processes. Are you ready for them?