Friday, March 19, 2010

Engage or discipline - how do you manage?

I recently had the opportunity to present at the OSHA Day conference at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, IL. Attending the event were around 400 individuals who are somehow involved in safety as part of their day to day work.
One of the attendees, in my 75 minute session on “Lean Safety,” suggested that to ensure employee safety you should have each of them sign a contract to follow all the safety rules and regulations. Old school safety like this, modeled on safety contracts and discipline, is a top down, directive and compliance (OSHA) driven business process. Companies following this model are still operating with the upright triangle – customers at the bottom and leadership on top. They are still dependent on the “discipline stick” to drive fear throughout their workplace in an attempt to raise safety awareness. Regrettably many businesses still use this model to manage safety.
By starting with both the premise that no one comes to work to get hurt, and an awareness of W. Edwards Deming and his belief that you must “drive fear from the workplace” in order to engage employees in the improvement of anything, safety professionals begin to understand that this old model in a relic of the last century. You earn trust by giving it. To demonstrate “respect for people” and begin to win the hearts and minds of those who are in harm’s way management must first flip the triangle and then begin to engage their employees in safety improvement efforts. Trust must pave the road to the continuous improvement of safety or any other company wide business change.
To “lean thinkers” safety is just another business process to which they can, with employee involvement, apply the lean tools to drive change. Switching safety management from a purely compliance based model to one based on compliance and continual improvement can be the starting point for a lean effort in any business for everyone will rally around safety. You can begin to bridge the trust gap that exists in all plants by starting on the safety side and crossing over to the lean side.
A company’s safety culture, or how the people who work there think, act and interact regarding safety, will only change if management changes their approach to safety. Top down safety allows workers to state, “They (management) don’t do anything about safety around here until someone gets injured.” Any employee directly involved in safety improvement will be unable to ever repeat that statement again for they are now part of the “they.” How many of your employees can you engage in safety? Now that would be a nice proactive safety metric for any company to track. Stay safe.

Monday, March 1, 2010

GEe - size doesn't matter!

During the last week of February I visited a GE transportation plant in Erie, PA to present my Lean Safety story at a meeting of plant managers and lean leaders from both the Erie plant and other GE facilities. After my presentation my host provided me with a personal plant tour. This facility is big scale lean for they produce locomotives – the kind that would make a train buff weak in the knees. It is heavy industry of the type that helped to build America’s industrial dominance many decades ago. Fast forward to today. It is an aging facility, spread over acres of land, producing many or most of the parts required to assemble locomotives in house. Trying to get your arms around the concepts of flow when the components are sized by the ton is almost incomprehensible.
Yet in just three years lead times have been reduced dramatically. With an intense focus on lean principles, they are slowly weaning themselves from MRP planning and moving toward a visual Obeya Room planning board that simplifies the component planning process and immediately gives visual attention to problems. To help ensure component on-time delivery they are transforming their fabrication and welding shops from traditional batch and queue work centers, that were literally buried in excess inventory, into sub-assembly flow cells that deliver components to final assemble based on takt signals. The use of a skunk-works approach for developing new fixtures and material handling equipment, required to make these fabricated parts flow, has engaged and energized some of their workforce. This is real lean, lean on a scale you can see and understand. Only passionate lean thinkers can tackle a process of this size and succeed. This visit once again proved that size doesn’t matter – a process is a process. Remove the waste, make it flow and the results will provide reduced lead times to customers.
When this economic downturn, or maybe plunge, does correct itself this facility will be ready to serve their customers in ways not imaginable in the past. On the GE website it states that “GE is imagination at work.” My visit to this facility proves that point. The lean leaders at this facility are visionaries and they are having the time of their lives. I had a lean buzz on while walking around, hearing about and seeing the changes they have implemented. Then, while standing next to a, “big as a house,” just built and freshly painted locomotive, I think I became a train buff. Woooo-woooo-chuggga-chuggga.