1. Who are you, what organization are you with, and what are your current lean-oriented activities?
Currently, I am the Lean Sensei for Batesville Casket Company helping guide our lean journey. As you know, sensei is Japanese for teacher which for me holds an enormous weight of responsibility. My core mission in this role is developing people. I have been fortunate enough to have had many great lean experiences and acquired plenty of lean knowledge from many excellent sensei; however I do not know everything about lean and will always be a student on the lean journey. Our current focus is on training, visual management, material flow and engagement of all our associates in continuous improvement. I also share many of my experiences and thoughts from the lean journey on my blog, Got Boondoggle? Writing on my blog has been a great way to connect with other lean practitioners from across the globe to share information and gain different viewpoints on the lean journey.
2. How, when, and why did you get introduced to lean and what fueled and fuels the passion?
My first introduction to lean, called JIT in those days, was July 1985 when I had the opportunity to learn the SMED system directly from Shigeo Shingo. I was Junior Industrial Engineer, a few years out of college, working for Hill-Rom, a manufacturer of hospital beds at the time. Shigeo Shingo was brought in by the Hillenbrand family to teach us this new technique for quick die change. Along with a setup operator and a tool room technician, the three of us were assigned to work with Shigeo Shingo for a week to understand and demonstrate the SMED system. I did not understand at the time how much of an impact this leaning experience would have on my career. It was an amazing experience which sparked my passion for continuous improvement. I do talk about my first lean learning experience in more detail in one of my recent posts. (http://gotboondoggle.blogspot.com/2008/12/journey-to-greatness.html)
As I gained more lean knowledge and experiences, we made some great improvements along the way and I was eventually given the opportunity to teach other around me. This is what fuels my passion for lean, helping others understand the principles of lean, the path of continuous improvement and the less practiced respect for people principle.
3. In your opinion what is the most powerful aspect of lean?
The most powerful aspects of lean are the emphasis on “thinking” and the development of people. The lean concepts are deceptively simple and considered common sense by many yet when trying to implement them, it is difficult. To be successful, we must use our brains and think, to be creative. We are all capable of being creative which is where our power for improvement can be found.
4. In your opinion what is the most misunderstood or unrecognized aspect of lean?
Unfortunately, the incorrect concept of lean as just a cost cutting tool and a short term, quick fix method is the biggest misunderstanding today. Many companies are in financial trouble and will turn to lean for the wrong reasons and will end up with the wrong results. Sometimes lean is promoted as this powerful medicine to cure all the problems of business. It is not a magic pill. Lean is not a cure; it is more like a healthy lifestyle of eating right and proper exercise.
5. In your opinion what is the biggest opportunity for lean in today’s world? How can that be accomplished?
The biggest opportunity for lean can be found in developing people. People matter. People are the creative force to solve problems, the energy to drive improvements and the source of brilliance to spark innovation. It is one thing to say people are our greatest asset and another to show it through our actions.
Now, more that ever, we need to think of better ways! It is a great challenge and there are no easy answers. Our traditional thinking is that problem solving is a management responsibility. The days of a small group of corporate executives locked up in a conference room to come up with all the “right” solutions are over. We will not survive if we continue with this type of thinking. By engaging all associates, our customers and our suppliers to work together on these problems, we leverage our greatest strength.
Don’t wait until you completely understand all the lean concepts or tools, have all the resources, have a bigger budget, a less hectic time period or a better economic environment to begin incorporating the lean principles. Expect to make some mistakes, receive some criticism along the way and sort through some conflicting advice. The lean journey is challenging, fun and a never ending leaning process!