Continuing our "5 Questions" series, here's a response from Bill Waddell. Many of you remember his insightful posts at Evolving Excellence a couple years ago. Well… he's back! He'll be returning to Evolving Excellence a couple times a week.
1. Who are you, what organization are you with, and what are your current lean-oriented activities?
After having spent the last couple of years as the Vice President of Global Operations for the Wahl Clipper Corp, I made the decision to pull the plug and get back into writing and limited consulting. It was an amazing experience and Wahl is truly a world class company and I am excited about sharing some of the lessons I learned at Wahl. Prior to going to Wahl I was one of the original "Thought Leaders" who rolled out the idea of Lean Accounting at the first Summit in Detroit. At Wahl I had the chance to work closely with accounting and the management team to put some of those theories into practice. The same is true with the ideas concerning a cycle time driven approach to lean on the shop floor, and the restructuring of a traditional organization to Value Streams. And I worked closely on lean efforts with plants in China and Europe. The experience of leading these efforts and working with the incredibly capable and enlightened group of people running Wahl helped me to refine my practical understanding of lean; and the amazing success that Wahl has enjoyed over the course of the last few years reaffirms lean in every possible way.
2. How, when, and why did you get introduced to lean and what fueled and fuels the passion?
My passion for lean stemmed from my first exposure to what we then called 'JIT" at Emerson Electric's Copeland Division twenty years ago. I still remember the Eureka moments I felt when I read an original translation of Shingo's Green book. It changed my view of manufacturing and my career has been centered around that passion for lean ever since.The fuel for my lean passion is, of course, people. Guys like Paul Maranka and Dean Ruwe created great learning opportunities for me back in those Copeland days, and along the way I have met and been supported ny some great lean thinkers. My friendship with Norman Bodek – my co-author on Rebirth of American Industry – is priceless. The Lean Accounting folks – Jim Huntzinger, Brian Maskell, Frances Kennedy and so many others – are so inspiring in how they demonstrate their passion for new ideas and creative thinking. You of course – and the challenges we shared in all of the writing that went into our our book. As corny as it sounds, however, the real high octane fuel comes from the people who work in the factories. They devote their minds and their hands to creating things – they give their lives to the things the rest of us need – and I really believe that lean is the vehicle to enrich their lives, make their daily factory life more worthwhile and rewarding, and the key to giving them the security they deserve. I truly believe that all of us in the lean community have a very high obligation to the people who work in the plants, and that is where the real passion to continually push the manufacturing world to a higher level of excellence originates.
3. In your opinion what is the most powerful aspect of lean?
A focus on cycle time. It seems to be a tough concept for many people to get their minds around completely, but when they do – and they understand that optimizing cycle time forces us to eliminate variability in the process, and that variability is the driver of all of those wastes – costs, defects, and so forth – then extraordinary improvements follow.Everything else – six sigma, JIT, inventory reductions, quality improvements are all subsets of cycle time compression.
4. In your opinion what is the most misunderstood or unrecognized aspect of lean?
The comprehensive nature of lean is still the most misunderstood aspect of lean. Far too many managers and business leaders still think lean is a factory or supply chain issue and that their management schemes are unaffected. The folks who get it, and realize that lean has profound implications for every aspect of management – pricing, accounting, strategic planning, organizational structures, product development and performance measurement – are the ones who take their companies to incredible levels.
5. In your opinion what is the biggest opportunity for lean in today's world? How can that be accomplished?
The current debacle in the economy presents a great opportunity for lean – especially the principles underlying lean accounting. In many ways the economic disaster is a failure of accounting. The so-called housing crisis has its roots in ridiculously over-valued assets, much like many traditional manufacturers delude themselves with grossly over-valued inventory assets. The companies that are suffering the most are the ones that have let their accounting systems diverge the furthest from cash.If the economic problems drive us to have a serious discussion about how we account for business, and the influence of Wall Street and its short term, riverboat gambler's approach to the capital markets that are the lifeblood of manufacturing, then the principles of lean will gain the traction they deserve.Operationally the economy presents what I am quite sure will be a watershed for lean. As markets compress and competition becomes even fiercer, the traditional manufacturing reactions – layoffs and running for China – will be a formula for disaster. Only providing a very high level of value for the prices charged will save companies in a permanently compressed world economy such as the one we are entering.
Yes – to all of my old friends in the Evolving Excellence community – it's great to be back!