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Where Have All The People Gone?

By Neil Dewfield MIOM


Somewhere in the desire to be Lean, whilst we search to understand the philosophies, to select and apply the right tools, and to organise and structure our business according to The Five Lean Principals...

I was intrigued by the latest of James Womack’s regular offerings from The Lean Enterprise Institute http://www.lean.org; lamenting the fact that Ford’s Highland Park Factory in Michigan had been allowed to become “a ghostly town with a ghostly factory”.

In Jim’s view, “.this building…. the site of the most important industrial and economic leap in human history.. (now) stand(s) empty and un-commemorated, awaiting re-development or the wrecker.”

Why is this building so significant? Jim tells us that here was built the World’s first continuous flow assembly line, and that from there started a legacy which today we call Lean, and which even now continues to be passed on to everyone reading this edition of Control.

This got me thinking about how we in manufacturing industry, always seem to place our primary emphasis on capital assets and the structures based around them: Read many of the text books on Lean, they will major on the tools and techniques and how to apply them. Those of us who might have studied Lean in more depth may even aspire to create our own versions of the Toyota Production System.

Somewhere in the desire to be Lean, whilst we search to understand the philosophies, to select and apply the right tools, and to organise and structure our business according to The Five Lean Principals (Specify value from the customer’s viewpoint, Identify the value stream, organise to flow the work, ideally in single piece, allow your customer to pull, strive for perfection) we may be missing a fundamental point – just like in Jim’s ghost town - where have all the people gone?
In my view, a philosophy which does not put people at it’s core is similarly just a shell. Ultimately, systems, principals, techniques, even the mighty TPS itself is nothing more than theory, without the people to make it work.

I recently attended a lecture given by Peter Wickens OBE, of Ford and latterly Nissan, fame. Peter began by outlining what he referred to as our industrial ancestors, the likes of dear old Henry Ford and FW Taylor. He characterises these early pioneers as ‘The Controllers’:

Taylor’s principals, for example, were
• Gather in the ‘mass of traditional knowledge’
• Eliminate waste
• Do things the one best way
• Hire hands not brains
• Separate the thinking from the doing.

Wickens concludes that history has now taught us the results of this philosophy
• Employees brains are left at the gate unless they are used to thwart the system
• Expropriation of knowledge
• Top Down control
• Alienation, conflict, restriction of output
• Militant trade unionism.

Surely we all know this though? Surely we all seek to be inclusive when we are creating, developing and deploying our business strategies? I wonder if we really do. Professor Peter Hines, Director of LERC, states that ‘Good strategy is not made in a vacuum’ – but how often is ‘strategic thinking’ the sole preserve of the higher echelons of our organisations? Are we in fact, perpetrating a huge Lean Hypocrisy by acknowledging all the ‘evils’ of ‘The Controllers’ philosophy whilst being guilty of implicitly perpetrating them ourselves?

Most, if not all of us in the Lean community, can recite the seven wastes, using our friend Tim Wood, or the dangers of the WORMPIT (or however else you choose to remember them) but more and more of us are beginning to recognise that there is an eighth waste: Potential.

Many enlightened authors and practitioners will argue that I have made a mistake in the above paragraph, and that in fact the eighth waste is specifically Human Potential. Indeed, they are right, but in my view, to waste human potential is to risk wasting the entire potential of your organisation. Potential to be the market leader, world class, the best of the best, or whatever else your organisation aspires to, because ultimately, it is your people, not your systems, who will deliver your goals.

We know that investing in training and developing our people are ways to minimise wasted human potential. And many of us recognise that it makes good business sense to do so, but is it a logical consequence that once trained and developed those individuals will then simply just become committed to delivering your organisations goals?

In the book, Lean Leadership - From Chaos to Carrots, to Commitment, Dr William Lareau cites a diet which is better, more effective, than any other diet ever invented. The diet is called The Carrot Diet. Essentially the plan is that you eat a large quantity of raw carrots about 1 hour before every meal. You can eat as many as you like. When meal time comes around, eat as normal. This is common sense: Everyone can see that if you stick to the carrot diet, you will lose weight (essentially because you will already be full at meal times and possibly have an aching jaw as well). However, the diet is uninspiring, it is bland, it may even cause discomfort, but it will work… Most people who go on the diet set off with all intention of following it because they see that it will work.

However, what they actually do is basic human nature… They spend much time and creative energy thinking up alternatives and variations which mean that they don’t actually have to eat any carrots. To each, the reasoning for not eating the carrots makes perfect sense, their logic is sound. Their alternatives are well thought out and researched and the risks are well managed. However, they don’t lose weight, because they don’t actually eat any carrots. Eventually they give up, concluding that the carrot diet doesn’t work.

The Carrot Diet does work and so does Lean. However, if you do not take account of human nature, your people will develop all kinds of workarounds, alternatives and reasons for not actually following your strategy - even if they are outwardly ‘committed’ to it. Lareau argues that only by building systems, or deploying tools and techniques in conjunction with your people and which satisfy their basic human needs will they begin to work for, not against those systems.

In conclusion; it is difficult and time consuming, sometimes frustrating and always ‘expensive’, but it is not filling your factory with expensive plant, clever scheduling systems or tools and techniques borrowed from TPS, which will ultimately achieve your goals. It is by filling them first with people who you train to think, encourage to contribute, and allow to commit.

Neil Dewfield MIOM
Senior Operations Development
Consultant
Ordnance Survey