It’s time to jolt everyone out of their lean rut. I have spent most of the week being pulled into the insignificant details of lean – whether the correct number of S’s is five or six, and the proper role of benchmarking in a lean transformation. I’m tired of straightening out the deck chairs on the Titanic, so let me give everyone a couple of real benchmarks:
Go look at the web site for Ace Clearwater. Be sure to click on the Continuous Improvement section. Check out the employee pictures, and the factory in the background. Read about the Employee of the Month. We’ll wait for you to get back. – – – – – – If yours is like most manufacturers, you should be pretty sober by now. Plot where you are compared to where those guys are and I hope we can all agree that we do not have time to waste on trivia. A good idea might be to go out and set up a free email account under an assumed name – firstname.lastname@example.org might be a good one to use – and send the Ace Clearwater link to everyone in management.
Or how about ISCAR Cutting Tools? Warren Buffet just bought 80% of them for a very good reason. I’m not sure whether it is good marketing or just plain showing off, but these guys like to bring customers in for a visit, have them specify an entirely new cutting tool, drop it into the regular production queue, then ‘deliver’ the tool to the customer before the sales pitch is over. That might be a pretty good cycle time and flexibility benchmark to use.
Finally, you might give some serious thought to the way the Ariens Company, the snow thrower people in Wisconsin, does business. They use the ‘China price’ as their kaikaku-type benchmark for driving improvements, rather than a rationalization for outsourcing. They use the people freed up from their improvement efforts to insource work. And they sell snow throwers all over the world, including cheap labor places like Eastern Europe.
Here’s the point: For most manufacturers, benchmarking is like me researching the current world record for the marathon before I start a jogging regimen. I am so far away from the point of comparing myself to world class that it would be an utter waste of time. Kevin made the point quite well last week. There are companies out there that are so good they are likely to eat you alive very soon, and they are all over the map. American companies are benchmarking themselves against other, old American companies and fretting about the China price. We all have to take off the blinders. ISCAR is an Israeli company! The truly lean companies are out there, and they are everywhere, and they are very good.
These companies did not get to where they are by counting the number of S’s or worrying about what anyone else was doing. They quite clearly go at manufacturing with a maniacal sense of urgency. Let’s all agree to stop fiddling while Rome is burning, and let’s get on with lean with a long overdue, similar sense of urgency of our own.