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Giving Up on Lean

On Monday the line went “live,” and all hands were truly on deck. We were determined to make this work. We monitored the line during the entire week, providing support wherever it was needed. The work content needed to be rebalanced a few times, some tools were not in the right places, and there were minor issues with missing parts in the stations—typical minor issues that arise during the transitional phase after a kaizen event. By the end of the week, it appeared that the line was operating to design. Although the operators had not yet reached the newly established design volume, they were getting closer every day. Everything appeared to be going in a positive direction.

During the following week, I began to develop a larger plan for the company’s lean journey. I was just beginning to understand the concepts of a companywide kaizen program, and I wanted to put them into action. The organization needed a governing body to watch over all kaizen events, and I felt that I should be given more authority than the outside consultants when it came to planning the events. I created a four-week timeline for each event, outlining everything that needed to take place ahead of time. It took me some time to put the pieces of this kaizen program together.

Periodically, I checked on the 1065 line to observe its productivity, volume, and quality metrics. The line was doing well, and the operators were following all the new procedures and processes, including the staffing requirements. (X-Corp had a habit of throwing people at a process to ensure that output was generated, not realizing the cost of that approach.) Everything was running smoothly—until changes were announced that would affect every line in the factory.

The production manager began changing the roles of the production supervisors. The 1065 line supervisor, who had been involved in the early phases of our implementations, was assigned to supervise a different line. The 1065 line was to be supervised by someone who had no lean background and had not been trained to manage this type of a process. This individual quickly moved people around, added unneeded people, and forced the operators to ignore single piece flow and create excessive work in process, all in an attempt to increase output. Suddenly, the line supervisor and I found ourselves in a fight to keep the process in control. I was patient at first, explaining to the new supervisor how the line was intended to operate. Although he listened intently, he never followed through with the promise he made to follow our procedures.

For weeks, the former team members and I battled with the supervisor and management. We had numerous meetings about the issue, but we were simply told that we needed to work together. We were losing our control, and the 1065 line was rapidly following the same path of failure that the engine line had followed.

I scheduled a meeting with my manager to discuss the problems and get her support. She told me to let go of the issue, because the production workers were going to run things the way they wanted to. This seemed to be a great time to present my ideas on the new approach to lean implementation. She listened to everything, including my complaints about the engine line and the 1065 line. Then she looked at me, paused, and said, “Well, these ideas didn’t work on the engine line.” I was speechless. She explained that management was unhappy with the way the kaizen teams and leaders had performed their projects over the past eight months. Management was concerned about plant productivity and did not think that the teams had done a good enough job; again, I was speechless.

This was pure management denial. She did not make a single comment about accountability or commitment. Although the teams had made mistakes, as all kaizen teams do, they had worked hard and were very flexible. However, X-Corp’s management had decided to stop holding kaizen events, and there would be no more consultants on-site. Two months later, I resigned.

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