How much do you know about how employees view your improvement programs?
I just came across some interesting links to Bill’s post on Dell getting into the auto retail business. One of them was from a site that isn’t exactly a fan of Dell, which has some extensive forums for customers, and interestingly enough, Dell employees. The employee section has subsections for employees to comment on management, tech support, sales, and manufacturing, each with many active topics.
Obviously we all know that the people that post complaints are not a representative sample of Dell employees or customers. Satisfied people are less likely to publicize their satisfaction than dissatisfied people are likely to let everyone possible know about their dissatisfaction. But at the same time studies often show that for every unhappy person that takes the time to do something about it, ten or more are unhappy but take no action. So it is important to listen to the vocal minority.
This post from an employee at the new North Carolina plant is representative of many on the manufacturing subsection, and provides an interesting insight into Dell’s operations. Obviously there are workcells in place, apparently segregated by product complexity. Cell output is measured at each site, with each site competing against the others… constantly setting bar higher. There is apparently almost one-piece kanban, with takt times of 50 to 70 seconds depending on the cell it’s feeding. Automated parts delivery, sometimes through elevators. Combined output to boxing is about 600 units per hour.
Pretty impressive, especially when you factor in other external reports on how Dell is now down to about 2 hours of total inventory (although they’ve probably learned from GM and Ford how that number can be seriously "skewed" through the use of transport), and they typically get paid several days before they have to pay their own bills. Not a bad business model, even if it has to be run extremely effectively to maintain very thin margins. I’m not going to get into the debate of whether Dell is truly lean.
But read the other comments in that same post, not to mention similar ones in other posts.
- the new cell goal is greater than "the previous unattainable target"
- the pod, or cell, "looks like a prison cell" complete with different clothing and temperatures of 90 degrees
- the employees, or teams, are getting poor reviews for not achieving goals… which are impossible due to overall building flow and configuration
- malfunctioning robots are throwing valuable systems onto the floor
- that particular employee is working hard to find a new job outside of Dell
Comments in the management forums are similar. Lots of disgruntled employees, but a few tidbits that should be listened to.
I’m sure there are other employees, probably the majority considering Dell’s rigid hiring criteria, that are stepping up to the plate and helping to improve things. But comments like the above warrant attention. Do your workcells feel like prisons? Looking at it from an employee perspective, someone who has to live in the cell for 8 or more hours a day, and it could feel that way. Are you setting unattainable goals? Is the level of frustration with your workplace causing employees, in which a typical company has invested a lot of training, to look elsewhere?
Are you spending enough time on the factory floor gemba, every day, that you know what your people are saying about you? It pays to listen. You might even be able to avoid having a website dedicated to airing your dirty laundry for the world to read.