Yesterday I visited a small factory owned by a friend of mine. I had visited the facility once before, when times were good and they had more orders than they could keep up with. As I said, business was good, but the harder they worked the more they had issues with delivery, quality and cash flow.
During that first tour, I was chatting with my friend’s production manager. Pointing at the mountains of semi-finished goods on the factory floor, I explained that in those mounds were hiding defects (later to be discovered by customers), clogging the production cycle (impacting delivery), and tying up his boss’s cash (needed for sales, marketing and other investmens). Reducing the WIP, I argued, would be a solid first-step in turning the place around.
To my surprise, the production manager seemed well versed in LEAN. He understood how to balance the production on both sides of the bottleneck, and how to eliminate non value-added steps in the process. He understood the value of JIT and Jidoka.
“All good stuff”, he said. “But we can’t implement it here.”
Why? Because they were too busy for LEAN or JIT. If they tried he explained, it would slow the process flow, resulting in even more delivery problems. Yes, in principle it’s a good idea. But not here. Not now.
That was during the good times. Yesterday’s visit showed a much slower factory, with much fewer workers and lots fewer orders. Some things, however, haven’t changed. There are still piles of WIP on the factory floor, and (not surprisingly) they are still having quality, delivery and cash-flow issues. Once again, I broached the subject of LEANing the production flow, and once again there was a “good reason” not to. Whereas before they were “too busy” for LEAN, now there was “not enough work” to go LEAN. Now the thinking, it seems, is that if they go LEAN and utilize their labor (and other resources) efficiently then some people wouldn’t have enough work to be kept busy. (I mentioned to him that the workers who were idled by balancing the line could be employed in his factory’s 5S efforts, but that didn’t go over too well).
This I’ve heard before. LEAN makes sense. It’s good stuff. But not here. Not now! Here are some lame excuses to maintain waste in the production cycle: