Several of you asked for it, so in this week's edition of 5 Questions we meet… me.
1. Who are you, what organization are you with, and what are your current lean-oriented activities?
Kevin Meyer, currently blogger-in-chief of Evolving Excellence, lucky to have Bill Waddell as my co-blogger. I am also president of Factory Strategies Group LLC, which operates the Superfactory website and the .am series websites, and provides limited consulting primarily as factory assessments for venture capital groups and others who are considering acquiring manufacturing companies. I am also a partner in Gemba Academy, which provides high quality online lean training using a subscription model uniquely suited for today's difficult business environment.
To keep my skills fresh and tied to the real world, as well as to satisfy a genuine love of the manufacturing gemba, I'm also president of Specialty Silicone Fabricators, the largest manufacturer of extreme tight tolerance silicone components primarily for the medical device industry. We have three plants doing extrusion, molding, sheeting, dipping, research and process design, tool design and fabrication, and assembly.
2. How, when, and why did you get introduced to lean and what fueled and fuels the passion?
I was introduced to lean nearly 15 years ago when I accepted a position to run a large operation for a Fortune-50 medical device company. Little did I know about the hidden issues in this operation, which when coupled with a 24/7/365 schedule running at full capacity but always behind schedule created major problems. While searching the very young internet for information to help solve my dilemma, I found lean.
I created a list of some of the resources, which I then shared with some of the folks at the plant. More people wanted it so I put it on the internal network, and when some external colleagues wanted the list I spent about five seconds coming up with the name "superfactory" and voila! The Superfactory website was born.
That website then opened the door to meeting some amazing people, early on via direct contact with the Association for Manufacturing Excellence which I became a board member of for over a decade. Those contacts led to more contacts, which led to more contacts.
What fuels the passion? Having seen the results of lean, both in that first operation and at subsequent operations and companies I have been a part of, I want to both share and leverage that knowledge. That's why I continue to grow Superfactory, write this blog, and even why I started and later sold a small contract manufacturing company that leveraged lean to provide extreme quick turnaround on critical assemblies, primarily military robotics that were getting blown up in various wars.
3. In your opinion what is the most powerful aspect of lean?
I'll give you two aspects: a drive for simplicity and elegance, and an understanding of the power of knowledge… which requires the oft-fogotten second pillar of lean: respect for people.
4. In your opinion what is the most misunderstood or unrecognized aspect of lean?
Very similar to #3 above. Regular readers of Evolving Excellence know this one: the power of people. People are not the expense or liability that traditional accounting tries to impose on us; properly trained and supported they are an asset. Knowledge, creativity, and experience cannot be measured on a balance sheet, and are worth far more than what we pay for a simple pair of hands.
On a similar note, the cost of complexity is often misunderstood. This is why you have companies chasing low cost labor overseas without realizing the complexity, and cost, they just added to their supply chains, as well as the value of knowledge they shed in moving. Similarly I often rant against overly complex software and processes. Once you take the time to boil processes down to their roots, to the value-adding components only, you realize how simple they really are.
5. In your opinion what is the biggest opportunity for lean in today's world? How can that be accomplished?
Lean offers a proven way to dramatically reduce the complexity and cost of delivering almost any product or service. It may have started in manufacturing, but there are organizations creating incredible improvements in creating delivered value… and reducing cost… in healthcare, government, education… you name it. The difficulty is getting past the traditional mindset that says you must increase inputs in order to increase output, or you must decrease output (service or product) if the inputs (like funding) decrease. That's the major problem with how our government is run today, as well as obviously most other organizations. By leveraging lean to focus on the conversion and delivery process in the middle, the overall process is no longer a zero-sum game.
Accomplishing this change in mindset is no easy task. We all create barriers by thinking that we know our organization better than anyone else can. And while getting more for less isn't that hard to understand, getting much, much more for far, far less is. Perhaps one of the problems with lean is a result of just how powerful it is? If lean created just minimal incremental value, perhaps it would be a tool that everyone could accept. But since it can create such phenomenal improvements in value, too many people simply say "that's impossible" and move on. It's not; the power is demonstrated every day.