What is the Heart and Soul of Manufacturing?

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Once in awhile you read a book that has such kernels of truth that they touch your soul. One such book is  The Heart & Soul of Manufacturing by Bill Waddell that I just finished reading. The subtitle reveals the focus of his book: "How Lean Management aligns with the better angels of our nature to create extraordinary business results."

[Michele Nash-Hoff| March 9, 2016 |Can American Manufacturing Be Saved]

I met Bill in 2014 when we were both speakers at the Lean Accounting Summit in Savannah, Georgia and reconnected with him at the summit in Jacksonville, Florida last year. I knew that we connected at a higher level because of his presentations and the topics we cover in our blogs, but reading his latest book confirmed it.

Bill has been a lean guru for more than 30 years, and in his Introduction, he writes this about his journey, "During the time I have grown in my own thinking from seeing lean as an exciting new set of tools to use on the factory floor and in the supply chain, to an all-encompassing business and economic model, to what it truly is: All of the above driven by and centered on a powerful and rare organizational culture."

My own lean journey has been much shorter ─ only 10 years since I attended my first workshop about lean in 2006, but it was preceded by getting my certificate in Total Quality Management in 1993. By the end of the 1990s, I had discerned that TQM failed because it started from the bottom up with "Quality circles" and was not adopted as a philosophy or incorporated into the corporate culture by C-level management.

I began my lean journey with the viewpoint that the adoption and implementation of lean tools and principles would help American companies be more competitive in the global marketplace and play a role in "saving" American manufacturing as expressed in my book published in 2009.

When I read Bill's book, I resonated with his statement, "The cut throat world of business, and especially manufacturing over the last thirty years, has become centered on the negative: laying off good people in pursuit of lower headcounts, closing plants and moving the work to China, decimating entire small towns across America, and bankrupting small suppliers by abruptly terminating long relationships and replacing them with cheaper foreign sources." These facts are what motivated me to write my book, Can American Manufacturing be Saved? Why we should and how we can. 

The understanding of the importance of the total transformation of the culture of a company was revealed to me when I took classes in 2014 from Luis Socconini of the Lean Six Sigma Institute to acquire my Yellow Belt in Lean Six Sigma and thereafter read his book, Lean Company.

After years of applying the Toyota Production System tools and principles in his consulting, Bill dug deeper into the precepts behind them to understand what enables "Toyota with its nearly perfect track record of providing lifetime employment to its workers ─ and making a lot of money at the same time." One of the five precepts that more Americans need to emulate is "Be contributive to the development and welfare of the country by working together, regardless of position, in faithfully fulfilling our duties."

Bill realized that there are other people like him "who want to do their jobs well, but also want to treat people well...they want to have a positive impact on the world around them and especially on the people around them." The purpose of his "book is to send the message to those people that it is possible to do both...it provides a path for good people to combine the crafts of their trade with their moral code, to be good manufacturers because they are good people, rather than feeling they must either be good manufacturers or good people."

Bill's book features in depth consideration of companies that are every bit Toyota's equal in their people-centered culture: ATC Trailers, Barry-Wehmiller, and West Paw Design.

Bill states that a lean culture is more than a "feel good culture;" it must be "a driver for a completely different way of running the business." It must be based on "servant leadership," wherein "the servant leader is always asking, 'How can I help?' Leadership and management exist to enable the folks on the front lines to better serve customers."

Bill writes, "Eliminating waste and empowering people intersect beautifully." But, in the goal to eliminate waste, "The resources that are the most important to eliminate wasting are people's time and talents." He adds, "Traditional management sees human beings as little more than unique tools, while lean thinkers see people as the very heart and soul of the organization's reason for existence." And, "In a lean company letting a thinking, feeling, growing person go ─ laying them off ─ is a shameful waste of a resource that is both precious and has enormous economic value."

Those familiar with lean will understand his emphasis in a subsequent chapter on organizing a company by value streams, which engenders the feeling that "we're all in this together" in the "shared commitment to the common good." In a company with a lean culture, "success is defined by how the team performs along the entire end-to-end value stream...Rather than pit people against each other for individual recognition, lean incentivizes people to help each other, and to do whatever they can to make the other folks on the team more capable, to enable them to bring more of their talents to bear on the job."

In chapter 5, "It's all about Growth," he writes, "There is a widespread misconception that lean is a strategy for reducing costs by eliminating waste. Quite to the contrary, lean is an engine for growth. The purpose of waste reduction and ideally elimination is to free up capacity." When you free up capacity, you can grow, produce more, and make more profits. As Bill writes, "no company has ever cut its way to success...Success can only come from more, and you can't cut your way to more."

In chapter 6, "Hard Core Culture," Bill discusses what is meant by a lean culture in contrast to "the traditional culture of blame, and its companion - arrogance...that causes most companies to fail from the inside out." While a lean culture eliminates blame to utilize the Deming Cycle of Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA), Bill states, "The core concept of respect for people is not just theoretical or philosophical respect based on the belief that we are all children of God and equal in His eyes. It is professional respect, as well...based on the knowledge that no one knows everything about a process or an operation, but everyone involved knows something."

Chapter 7, "Accounting," contains Bill's easy to understand explanation of "the important aspects of lean accounting, and how they support the decisions a principled, faith driven manager..." Lean accounting measures costs "based on cross functional value streams, rather than in each functional silo. It is based on "real money...it largely does away with the various types of cost types typically assigned to them...Standard costs are done away with in lean."

I became a big proponent of lean accounting after a four-hour module in my Yellow Belt class that was reinforced when I attended sessions at the Lean Accounting summits of 2014 and 2015.

In chapter 8, Bill recounts the horrific story of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire that I recounted in my own book, wherein 145 women workers died in a fire because the doors were locked so the women couldn't get out via the stairs, three of the four elevators weren't working, and the owners had not installed a sprinkler system. It was the worst industrial incident in American history. It shocked the country and "it set off a series of laws and changes in industrial safety that eventually put an end to sweatshops in the United States."

Bill then recounts the stories of two equally or more horrific tragedies that occurred in 2012 and 2013 offshore: Tazreen Fashions factory fire in Bangladesh where 117 women died in a fire because of locked doors and no fire prevention system and the Rana Plaza factory building collapse killing more than 1,200 people. He comments, "Since NAFTA was enacted some twenty or more years ago there has been a flurry of global trade agreements that typically pay little more than lip service to moral and ethical issues...These same trade agreements have had the effect of causing American environmental regulations to be something of a sham...great swaths of American manufacturing has moved to places such as China and Vietnam where there has been little or no environmental concern."

We have actually been outsourcing our pollution to primarily China or Mexico. There is no sky-high fence to keep the air from crossing our border with Mexico, so we are breathing the polluted air being generated by companies in Mexico. In addition, the horrifically polluted air from China is actually coming to the U. S. on the trade winds.

The rest of the chapter 8 is a rather lengthy discussion of the differences between a privately owned vs. a publicly owned company with regard to practicing moral principles in the conduct of business.

Chapter 9 focuses on people, as "lean is a completely people centered business theory... lean management assumes the best and is based on empowerment and trust." A culture of lean eliminates the conflict between management and labor. He presents examples of the "talent development" aspect of lean and now some companies evaluate people on the basis on their skills and knowledge in a four-square quadrant for both compensation and leadership. He concludes, "The companies with the best people working together on the best teams are the winners, and putting the best people into the best teams is done by principled leaders, not on the basis of accounting parameters."

Chapter 10 considers "A Few Specifics," and one of them that flies in the face of modern technology is the elimination of ERP systems as lean companies "see big IT systems as creators of significant levels of non-value adding waste. ERP systems create the need for planners, production schedulers, cost accountants and buyers. They require data collection and entry, as well as supervisors to oversee all of this, along with the costs of the software and hardware itself." He provides examples of how ATC and West Paw Design use much simpler systems based on kanban ("a Japanese term mean something like 'display card'") He explains "Lean companies operate on a demand pull basis, rather than sophisticated forecasting models. Under this approach, they set a minimal inventory level in place and their purchasing and producing simply replenish that which has been used to meet actual customer demand..."

He concludes, "Perhaps the biggest reason lean companies avoid systems such as ERP is their cultural aversion to complexity. Complexity is the enemy of short cycle time, and it is the enemy of continuous improvement."

The final two chapters contain a plea to take action and start leaning. He states, "You can't change the basic trajectory of the business unless you change how you manage it...The gut wrenching, radical transformation in the business is not on the shop floor ─ it is in the management office." He states that successful lean leaders don't come to this enlightened approach to management through logic, "they come to it through their principles...a principled leader is not content with the basic shop floor tools...they delve deeper and deeper into lean to find the zone of the management structures and philosophies need to allow them to manage by their principles and they dive even deeper into the core of lean culture until they fully understand and support the cultural rules need to turn the whole company into one driven by the leader's strongly held beliefs." He encourages companies to "learn why a strong culture is the linchpin of Lean success."

The kernels of truth I briefly highlighted herein are why I recommend this book to everyone who wants to live and work by his higher principles while achieving greater success. If more American companies had the type of lean culture that Bill envisions, we truly could rebuild our manufacturing industry to make America great again and create jobs for millions of out of work Americans.

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  • commented 2016-03-10 20:21:32 -0500
    Thank you greatly Paola Masman for your excellent article on how we really can become great again as a Americans and as a nation. Mr. Waddell is an excellent True North Lean thinker we all should know and be listening to.