It’s easier to float downstream than paddle upstream

Mike Wroblewski
Tags: talent management

As I guided our kaizen team at Batesville Casket Company this week focusing on productivity and 5-S of a weld cell, an important lesson from Day One training was reinforced during our time at gemba. When making changes, it is better to include the process experts in the analysis and experimentation to gain buy-in (and get good ideas), especially if they are not official team members. (P.S. – Don’t forget to include experts from all shifts.)

The team worked the day before with the first-shift associate on finding a home location for the universal tool (a hammer) used for adjusting the fit-up of parts in the weld fixture. Yes, I know this is muda to have to adjust parts and we noted it for future kaizen work. After a couple of experiments, an agreement on a location was reached and a new tool holder for the hammer was added to the weld fixture. It provided simple access and was within easy reach. So, the kaizen team ran off to the next improvement, right?

Not so fast, my fellow kaizen blitzers. When the team returned to gemba this morning, the new hammer tool holder had been removed. It was later found on top of a nearby work table. The improvement was undone.

Needless to say, some of team members were upset, a little on the angry side and certainly frustrated. A few of the kaizen team members quickly gathered around the scene of the crime and started to resemble a mob with pitch forks and hay sickles. They were in search of the criminal who had the nerve to undo their kaizen.

Of course, they wanted to round up the usual suspects and get management involved to seek corrective action. It was deduced that the weld associate on the night shift was the most likely suspect. Just wait until he reports for duty tonight!

What would you do in this situation?

As those kaizen team members working on this tool presentation were debating a plan of action, I asked them if they have previously included the night-shift associate on their idea for the hammer tool holder. They said that they did not and quickly came to agreement that they should have. I then asked, “Why do you think he did not like it and decided to remove it?” Maybe there was a good reason? It is better to not jump to conclusions and just simply ask the weld associate what the problem was.

The kaizen team did exactly that and, after a calm discussion with the night-shift welder, the team learned that the tool holder placement made it difficult to weld a portion of the unit. A-ha! Our improvement did not make it easier and better for the associate.

Now the kaizen team looked for a better location for the tool holder. It was actually more difficult that initially thought. I asked the team where the hammer was normally placed and they showed me a ledge on the weld fixture as the most common location. I asked if that was true for all shifts. They confirmed it. I suggested that it would be easier to float downstream than paddle upstream

With the notion that maybe a designated tool holder/placement on the ledge (where all the associates preferred to place the hammer) might work better, the kaizen team did some more experiments. After a few more tries and input from all shifts, a home location for the hammer was incorporated on the ledge. Kaizen success!

(Meet Mike Wroblewski and hear him present a case study on lean activities at the Batesville Casket Company by attending the 2008 Lean, Reliable and Lubed conference in Nashville, Tenn. Visit www.driveyourplant.com for full details and to register.)

About the author:
Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is currently the lean sensei at Batesville Casket Company in Batesville, Ind. He also writes a blog called “Got Boondoggle?” featuring lean and Six Sigma topics. Check it out at http://gotboondoggle.blogspot.com/.


About the Author

Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is currently a senior operations consultant for Gemba Consulting North America LLC. He also...