A good way to pick up the pace of the move to lean manufacturing in the United States would be to create a "Lean Czar’ position reporting to the President with a little authority to get things done, then give the job to Jim Pillsbury.
Pillsbury’s qualifications: He knows lean inside and out, gets results, and he has a low tolerance for those who talk a good game, but don’t get results. Referring to his bosses as "clueless", he was the first volunteer for an Army program called ‘Velocity Management’ at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. A year and a half later, parts and supplies were where they needed to be 300% faster and at a whole lot lower cost. He did it by starting with the customers and working backward through the value streams; he says picking the right things to measure is critical; and getting everyone to keep their eye on the total process instead of their particular ‘node’, are what makes it happen. Sounds to me like he has the formula down pat.
After straightening out the supply chain for the 101st Airborne (the Bastogne, ‘Band of Brothers’ guys who are making life miserable for a lot of bad guys in Iraq), he has taken over the Army’s Aviation and Missile Command. It took about ten minutes after he took charge for everyone in Huntsville, Alabama to know that there was a new sheriff in town.
A lot of people may be impressed with the ‘leanness’ of the defense industry supply chains – but not Pillsbury. He is a ‘bottom line’ kind of guy who doesn’t get confused by the ‘Looking Lean’ versus actually Being Lean’ problem that muddles so many of us. At a recent conference in Nashville, Pillsbury said about the Army’s supply chain, "It’s broken – it’s not working anywhere. Anyone who thinks ‘lean manufacturing’ is just a temporary buzz word is wrong. We’re going to be in this fight for a long time, where are the production lead time decreases?" I guess any suppliers in attendance expecting a pat on the back for their 5S programs and vision statements left a little bit disappointed to hear that he is unimpressed with the whole supply chain – that it’s not working anywhere. His ‘show me the money’ attitude is exactly what the lean community needs.
When the Air Force wanted to start a bureaucratic squabble about the Army logistics command going after their own transport planes, he blasted them for showing up for the jurisdictional dispute, but not when the problem needed to be solved. His quote in response to Air Force insistence that they lead the effort was about the most diplomatic statement I could find from him: "From where I sit, in Huntsville, Ala., the Air Force has not played heavily in what we are doing in the acquisition."
I take a lot of heat for failing to appreciate the people side of lean enough. I don’t worry about it much because I know that I am a warm ray of happy sunshine compared to the two greatest lean manufacturing managers of all time – Charles Sorensen and Taichi Ohno. I get the impression that Pillsbury shares their ‘Having a good excuse for failure is not the same thing as success’ outlook. For that reason, one of the terms of the job ought to be that Pillsbury doesn’t get to go very far from the office without his wife, Becky. While he has been wearing himself out verbally slapping supply chain non-performers around, she has been wearing herself out taking care of the returning heroes from Iraq and Afghanistan. With his brains and backbone, and her heart and soul, they make a great team.
His job ought to be to serve as the clearinghouse for manufacturers and lobbyists who want something from the government. When the boys from NAM want the decks cleared for more tax breaks and easier outsourcing, they ought to have to go see Pillsbury first to see what he has to say about their big ideas.
He could set the official government position on manufacturing bankruptcies. When Delphi wants court approval to close their Shingo Prize winning plants in the U.S., move overseas and walk away from their labor agreements, the bankruptcy judge ought to find out what Pillsbury thinks before deciding.
When the lobbyists from G.E. want to bend the President’s ear on whatever new handout they want, they ought to have to stop in Pillsbury’s office and explain their ’70/70/70 – outsource 70% of all we do, and send 70% of that out of the U.S., and send 70% of that to India’ strategy to Pillsbury and see if that qualifies them for any government breaks.
In short, Brigadier General Pillsbury should be the official government manufacturing gate keeper. His charge should be to let manufacturers honestly pursuing competitive manufacturing in and give them the keys to the government vault and a direct pipeline to the policy makers; and to keep the riff raff of lawyers, numbers manipulators and Wall Street lackeys out. He strikes me as the perfect man for the job.