One lesson of many I have learned since I started down the consulting trail years ago is that when the management team of a client company is committed to the idea that they are different, and the principles that apply in other sectors of manufacturing don't apply to their unique situation, it is best to pack up and move on. "Do you have experience with a dairy products manufacturer that is 50% employee owned selling to both retailers and restaurant supply distributors with factories in both Alabama and Nebraska?" is code for "We ain't gonna change."
It is especially curious to hear how a particular industry is so unique that their challenges – and obstacles to improvement – are far beyond those any other sector of manufacturing faces when the entire senior management team has never worked in any other facet of manufacturing other then the one they are sure is so difficult. I wonder how they know that automotive/consumer products/defense/fill-in-the-blank has it so much easier than they do when none of them have ever been in any of those industries.
The most notorious of these is pharmaceutical. On the whole the state of manufacturing management in the big pharmas is pretty dismal; and on the whole they are more inbred than just about any other sector. This article is fairly typical of the stuff you read in their trade publications: "Inventory turns are poor due to several pharma specific issues: 'No Stock-Out Philosophy' … 'Regulations' … 'Labeling Requirements' "
Guess what boys? Every manufacturer has a "no stock-out philosophy". The folks in the food products, defense and aerospace businesses have a regulation or two they have to follow, and everyone selling into consumer products has a "need to have unique labels and hence unique SKUs". Most of them do not use those challenges as pathetic excuses for dismal manufacturing practices and results.
This particular issue stuck in my craw after I read that the Johnson & Johnson's plant making children's products has been closed down after four recalls in seven months. The FDA met with Johnson & Johnson's senior management in February and they still can't figure out how to make children's Tylenol and other products without "foreign materials and black or dark specks" in them. This is no primitive outsourced operation – the solution of choice for many of the big pharmas to address their unique challenges. This plant is in a suburb of Philadelphia.
The FDA inspectors found "thick dust and grime covering certain equipment, a hole in the ceiling and duct tape-covered pipes." I guess the challenges of dealing with all those labels are moot. The FDA is urging J&J's customers to use private labeled alternatives – generics – anything but Johnson & Johnson. How's the 'No Stock-Out Philosophy" working for you now, J&J? Seems as though the government has concluded that a stock-out of Johnson & Johnson products is about the best thing that can happen to their customers.
The rationalization that you are different – your problems are so difficult and unique that no one else can understand them – is a formula for disaster. It makes management sound like so many teenagers – or alcoholics – whining 'no one understands me'. In fact, just about everyone understands you quite well. The only one who doesn't get it is you.
It is not difficult Johnson & Johnson – just stop believing your inane rationalizations for mediocrity. Call the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center – the local MEP – and have someone come out and show you how to clean off your machines and fix the hole in the ceiling. You would be surprised at how many manufacturers face the challenge of shipping products to specifications – and they even put labels on them – and they clean off their machines from time to time too. You just might learn enough to open up for business again.
Jim Fernandez says
You hit the nail on the head.
And you don’t have to be a consultant to see the “we are different” attitude. If you want to hear these kinds of excuses for not improving, all you have to do is start applying Lean principles in your place of work. I think having to navigate though the “but we are different here” attitude is a natural part of the Lean process.
My job as a Lean Manager is to try and find ways to apply Lean principles to my company’s own “unique” culture. ( Oh gosh I’m sorry I added this last sentence.!!! )
Constantly being confronted with “my mountain is bigger than your mountain” (tangentially related to NIH) is an occupational hazard for service providers. I think it’s worse today, particularly among start ups. Everyone is so much more “special and unique” -a manifestation of the narcissism epidemic.
15 years ago, I was naive enough to try to reason with them but I’ve figured out it’s not worth my time. Either someone is open minded enough to have looked for solutions in other scenarios and industries or they aren’t. The latter typically love to pat themselves on the back for their open mindedness which could be better defined as reinforcing the perimeters of what they do know vs what they don’t. The more self-congratulatory they are, the less likely they are to listen.
If a potential client is only interested in hearing their own answers parroted back to them, one’s time is better spent by moving on. It’s so bad these days I no longer provide an initial free consult.
Dean Reimer says
Good comment. Thinking that your company has unique challenges is an easy trap to fall into. It becomes a very simple excuse for inaction.
Mark Welch says
I’m in healthcare, where we are trying to adopt lean…
So, using the naysayers’ same logic, imagine such a concrete head going to his doctor, and after a brief examination the doctor tells him, “Sorry. You’re different. You’re unique. Your problems are so special that I can’t help you.”
Doesn’t quite feel so good from the other side.
Jim Dandy says
Then there is the other side of that coin–those who are determined that there is only one way to implement lean. That’s how they were taught by some kaizen kowboy or other, or maybe their corporate-level leaders are forcing “standardized” lean implementations across a number of different entities. That is just as mediocre. For you see, there are differences between plants and/or companies that must be accounted for. Both extremes are wrong. My old sensei used to tell me “Adapt, Adopt, and Apply.”
Mark Graban says
The WIHI audio conference with John Toussaint and Gary Kaplan (from ihi.org) had this issue come up.
A hospital person asked about how this lean stuff could clearly apply to factories (trotting out the tired idea that factories just crank out thousands of a single product) but hospitals are more complex.
Toussaint and Kaplan hit it out of the park with their answers, poo-pooing that notion.
Lean DOES apply in hospitals, that’s proven now. Doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially if you insist you’re too different for it to work or if you’re just trying to copy and find silver bullets.
Then, somebody asked (in the chat box) about how this clearly applied to hospitals, but they are MORE COMPLEX in primary care.
People are so good at finding others to look down upon.
You’re different, fine. Instead of that being an excuse, put your energy into finding a way to make lean work, as Toussaint and Kaplan did.
Jan Jochmann says
Very good post.
Reading the last comment from Mark, it reminded me of his own post he wrote a few months before about “Lean won’t work here …We are different”.
I liked that one very much too:
I hope it is okay to put links here, sorry if not…