By Kevin Meyer
This week I'm taking a little time to look back on the factories I
toured in Japan nearly two years ago as part of the Gemba Research Japan Kaikaku Experience, thinking about what I
learned and took away, and comparing that to what I've done with the new
Today we'll look back on the tour of an electronics manufacturer that wished to remain anonymous as it's lean efforts created quite the competitive advantage. The original tour report is here,
and a listing of all the factory tour reports and discussions on the
lessons learned is here. Wednesday's reflection on the Saishunkan Cosmetics tour is here and yesterday's revisiting of the Toyota Kyushu tour is here.
I've been asked to protect the confidentiality of this company so I'll
just say they're a contract manufacturer of low volume high variety
electronics boards, with sales a little shy of $100 million. Established
in the early 1980s, they now have over 200 employees working on a
single shift. Customers range from low tech appliances to large
multinational technology companies. They successfully compete with
companies that have lower costs as measured by traditional balance
In the 90s this company ran into some severe difficulties and decided, out of desperation, to try something radically different. That radical idea was 3S – a subset of 5S. And 3S they did to a most radical extreme. You see everything… everything… is on wheels so it can be moved out of the way to be cleaned. Desks, workstations, plants, magazine racks. And everything is labeled – even coat racks and doorknobs. The entire operation is scrubbed clean every day by everyone, and on the original tour report there's a photo of the company president (remember, a $100M company!) on his hands and knees scrubbing the office floor.
Yes it's a bit over the top, but it changed the culture of this company and eventually made it very successful. It created a culture of change, which then led to operational improvements such as visual management and work cells.
And standing up. Everyone stands, and there are virtually no walls and no offices. The president and his staff stand together in one room, somewhat similar to what we described at Saishunkan a couple days ago.
Although the incredible 3S was impressive, my primary lessons from this visit were:
A crisis can be leveraged for change. Who said "never let a good crisis go to waste?" Oh yes, Rahm Emanuel. Nevermind. Maybe I'll rethink this lesson.
But probably my main takeaway from this visit, as simplistic as it sounds, is the power of standing. Regular readers know I've gone a bit nuts on this concept. Only a week after returning I got rid of the traditional executive spread and simplified to a stand up desk. After a few days I felt great and decided to dive into the science a bit more. After a year I was completely sold on the concept as were several of my coworkers. I even found a wide range of fitness accessories for the stand up desk. And in the spirit of one of my very first blog posts, a single stand up desk has less horizontal surface area, forcing me to be much more organized.
After eighteen months I'm more committed to the concept than ever, and a majority of my staff now stands as well. To each their own – I may proselytize a bit, but never with any force. Yes a couple people have even gone back to sitting. It's not for everyone. I do notice that I walk around much, much more. I am much more focused when I am working at my desk. The concept itself has helped create an atmosphere of change. Downsides? I find it hard to sit – including while driving or flying long distances. I find myself getting up and cruising the aisles of planes, or stopping at almost any interesting waypoint to get out of the car and walk around a bit.
Try it – perhaps just for a day. Actually the first few days are a little rough. Try it for a week, perhaps by weaning your way from a chair to a bar stool to standing up for hours. You'll probably be surprised at how much more focused you are and how much more you accomplish.
One more reflection to go: TOTO.