by BILL WADDELL
This is about as good a lean story as I have ever come across. A guy by the name of Rob Reich runs the maintenance operations taking care of some 54,000 tractors, trailers and containers at Schneider National – a big logistics outfit - and he seems to have lean principles down cold. The title – "hope isn't a business strategy" – has nothing to do with the main point I want to make. It is just a great line so I thought I'd use it in the title so it gets tagged all over the Internet.
No, there are a lot of other things Schneider National is doing that are worth noting, especially Reich's focus on being "disciplined AND creative" – "We stress the 'and,'" he says. Good way to describe the role of people in a lean enterprise. He would love a million dollar idea, but he doesn't expect one. Instead he wants a whole lot of $50 ideas. They also seem to be hitting all of the shop floor industrial engineering sorts of things, and working the supply chain by lean principles. They seem to have the complete lean deal going for them.
The point that I jumped on, however, is the idea of functional 'champions'. "The presence of a “Champion” for each discipline (electrical, tires, air conditioning, etc.) helps changes get communicated to all employees quickly." For all practical purposes, the 30 maintenance shops Schneider has strong out across the country are 30 cross functional value stream. If the maintenance system were built under traditional manufacturing principles, the thirty facilities would each be dedicated to a function – an air conditioning facility, a tire facility, an engine facility, and so forth … the same way manufacturers seem fixated on the idea that all machining has to be done in a machining department under the keen eye of a machining manager, while all assembly has to be done in a different area under the equally watchful eye of an equally diligent assembly manager. Obviously that approach wouldn't work for a maintenance operations taking care of equipment on the move across the entire country – the world, for that matter.
The idea of a champion to assure communications and consistency across value streams works just as well in a manufacturing facility – better, in fact, because everything and everyone are still pretty close to each other. Value streams have to be focused on customers and market segments. The idea is to create a cross functional team, empowered and capable of doing whatever it takes to optimize value for the customers, and each customer (or at least each group of similar customers) defines value differently. When the value streams are built around products in order to keep functional control or to gain economies of scale, the point has been missed. That structure is all about taking care of yourself, rather than taking care of customers.
That said, there is a need for the technical experts in each value stream to learn from each other ans to share ideas. Cross value stream 'champions' whose full time job is something else, but have the responsibility to facilitate communications and keep each functional expert on top of their game is the solution.
How well does it work? I guess pretty well if an idea to improve air conditioning bays was able to be conjured up in one place, then implemented across thirty value streams for a savings of a half million bucks. That air conditioning champion truly deserves the title.
Whatever you take from it, this is a great lean example and one that I hope is spread far and wide.