Just tidying up a bit with a few short notes.
First, a week or so ago we pointed you to the ranking of lean companies that Mark over at the Lean Blog had created. Since then several new companies have been added for a total of 48, and there have been over 450 votes. The list is starting to arrange itself pretty much as I would expect… Toyota on top followed by Danaher. Pella Windows, Caterpillar, HON, and Illinois Tool Works in the very top tier… all great companies. John Deere, Honda, and Boeing in the second tier. Several people apparently had read Bob Emiliani’s second edition to his Shingo Prize-winning Better Thinking, Better Results and know that Wiremold has crashed from a top lean company to barely above pathetic… right next to Ford and Delphi at rock bottom.
There are some surprises: Parker-Hannifin and Wabtec are two stars in my book (and yes, disclaimer, I do own shares of both), and I believe they should be ranked higher. General Motors is surprisingly strong at number 32. I still question GE’s true commitment to lean as they dispose of more and more manufacturing. We’ve often lauded Dell’s supply chain prowess but not considered them truly lean, but do they deserve to be fourth from last? And… the real question… what the heck is up with Oscar Mayer? No one seems to know. Take a look at the ever-changing ranking… and add your vote!
Secondly, this week we were pleased to be added to the list of 100 Daily Must-Reads for Entrepreneurs. An interesting list including some of my own favorites, such as The Instigator, Agile Management, Curious Cat, Venture Chronicles, Seth Godin, and Startup Spark.
Thirdly, the blogging world continues to amaze me. Thanks to this blog I get three or four books a week to review, plus the occasional other trinket or invitation to speak at some conference. But a local friend of mine has a blog called Putter Zone that focuses purely on… you guessed it… golf putters. A new review every few days. Guess what he gets in the mail a couple times a week… let’s just say they’re worth just a tad more than a book, plus some of them are pretty damn cool. I’m sure our wives spend some time "discussing" our ever-growing collections.
Finally, in a comment to last week’s post on One Square at a Time, Thomas asked about my experiences creating a startup contract manufacturer using lean from the get-go. Back in 2000 I was running a couple manufacturing sites for a telecom equipment company. The telecom crash forced me to lay off a few hundred people, and just for kicks I added myself to that list to get a fresh start. That fresh start would be a niche contract manufacturer I created with a couple partners. We found capital, a great custom building, hired minimal staff (including the toilet paper czar I mentioned in the post)… and we spent quite a bit of time developing streamlined procedures that conformed to both ISO and lean methodology.
Those procedures and methods included a contiguous, reconfigurable manufacturing floor… workstations on wheels, overhead utility grids, wireless network, and the like. We even had the brain fart to project our operating flowchart on a large 20×20′ wall at one end of the shop floor. Our sales effort pitched lean as a fast cycle time answer for the niche needs of our customers… we leveraged a select local group of secondary suppliers to provide wicked quick turnaround. And as a startup we did anything… circuit boards for prototype cell phone displays, high end sound equipment, semiconductor oven components, and even massive conduit assemblies for waste treatment equipment. Anything for a buck. That’s where I learned, painfully at times, that cash flow is king and how much the government likes to dis-incentivize new business.
I remember my days at a Fortune-20 medical company when I’d roll my eyes when hearing about their latest sales meeting in Hawaii, Cancun or some other exotic locale. Engineers didn’t get that kind of treatment! My roommate for a while in the early 90’s was the marketing chap whose job it was to scout out the location for the next sales meeting… every week he flew someplace to be wined and dined by a resort hungry for a thousand sales guys on expense accounts. A rather glamorous job, while I slaved away trying to get the product out the door. Grrr…
I now realize they deserve every perk… sales is tough, far tougher than a couple engineers realized. Cold calls, pounding on doors of tech companies, and trolling trade shows was hard, eye-opening, and downright depressing. But we slowly got some business, which consolidated into some small regular business, and after a few years we decided to sell out. After which I went into consulting, writing, and general lounging around… until the shop floor itch got me again.
A great experience that teaches you what the real bottom line of business is really about. If I had to do it over again I’d be far, far (far) more conservative on plans, capital outlays, and initial cash flow. But there is definitely a niche for leveraging lean to provide wicked quick turnaround of the dogs that no one else wants to touch. Just don’t kid yourself about hard hard it will be… work-wise and especially the impact on your business partners, you personally, your friends, and your family. However I still highly recommend everyone try doing their own thing at least once in their life.