It seems to me there is another fundamental aspect of lean manufacturing that needs to have the harsh light of reality shone upon it: this business of people empowerment – you know – respect for people, letting them control their work lives, etc, etc, etc.. – all that blather about people being such a valuable asset we splatter all over our web sites and annual reports. Most companies that believe they are doing well in this regard should have to explain why, if their production folks are so empowered, do they still have supervisors or foremen, quality inspectors and auditors, and material handlers?
If we really have respect for the folks in the factory, and we have empowered them to do their jobs, we should not have to pay people to look over their shoulders, check up on their work, or get their parts for them. They oughta be able to do all of that for themselves. Empowered people don’t need babysitters.
Like everything else about lean, empowering people is a cost reduction issue. If you are going to pay a guy fifteen bucks an hour, he had better be able to get his job done without someone dogging him all day, and someone else double checking everything he does, or someone making sure he has the right parts and has done the proper paperwork. If our people are not capable of working independently and getting the job done right, we need to get new people. More likely they are, and we are just not trusting them to do it, in which case, we need new management.
In any event, you cannot succeed by compounding high labor rates with a 3:1 direct to indirect ratio. In fact, you cannot win by hanging onto the archaic management belief that there is any significance to the distinction between direct and indirect labor at all.
Our Asian and Mexican competitors employ work checkers, babysitters and straw bosses out of necessity. We employ them out of ignorance. And so long as we continue to employ them, we have empowered no one to the point that they are really helping the bottom line.