Create Fire in Your Organization! Build teams into your lean implementation / by Steve Willett

By: Michael Deese


I am the former owner of Santech Industries in Fort Worth, Texas.  I am also the founder of Visionary Products, and the creator of the Lean Zone(r) Production Methodologies (sometimes known as the Lego(r) Airplane Game*).  Our story began when Santech had been growing rapidly.  We had doubled in sales, moved into a new larger building, and opened a rubber molding facility.  We were dealing with the growth, the new manufacturing, and the move.  I won't say that things were out of control, but close.  Day-to-day tasks involved dealing with problems, and managing the change

Critical Mass: Assemble the Steering Team, formulate the vision, prepare market strategies, and communicate the plan to all associates.
 
Cellular: Determine product families, design product cells, and move the equipment.
 
Empowerment: Implement the team structure and roles.
 
One Piece Flow: Reduce batch sizes to the smallest possible size and establish cycle times for each part.
 
Material Resource Planning: Integrate the scheduling of material and labor across cells.
 
Variation Reduction: Begin to study and reduce variation throughout your processes.
 
Standardization: Study, document, simplify, and reduce the number of different processes.
 
We talked about critical mass and cellular in the last eNewsletter, now we arrive at empowerment.  The empowerment step involved the addition of teams into the product-cells, and into the overall organization.  We directly attribute the tremendous success that was achieved in our change to the empowerment of employees, and the ensuing pride of ownership.  I consider empowerment as a fire, where the employees are the oxygen and employee engagement is the flame.
 
The level of empowerment should be determined based on the comfort level of top management.  However, the amount of authority that is delegated determines the level of energy returned by the employees.  Our management team determined to delegate all authority possible to the teams.  The team structure that we were utilizing had been used in multiple successful implementations at other companies so we felt very confident.  
 
There was oversight, but we moved as much authority as possible to the teams.  The supervisor roles were also divided up, and spread to different members of the team; human resources, quality, scheduling, safety, and supplies.  Normally, a supervisor is one of your top performing employees.  Once you promote them, they deal with all of the supervisor roles which end up taking most of their time.  When you delegate the roles to other team members, you gain two things; the key person now has more time to help with the issues, and the members that have taken the role responsibilities feel engaged. 
 
The team structure and cellular layouts were executed at the same time.  The cell designs had been completed, members were pre-assigned to teams, the factory was moved over about 3 days, and everyone started in a new work cell and on their new team.  The simultaneous physical and psychological changes were very important; everything was new, and there was no going back. 
 
LESSON LEARNED:
When possible, implement teams and lean designs simultaneously.
 
The teams had authority to change production processes within their area within reasonable boundaries.  After the initial implementation of one piece flow and load balancing, we begin to see easy and smart changes start happening daily to the processes.  Product families were assigned to product cells so the team felt that they produced and owned this product.  They became very proud of their quality and efficiency. 
 
We performed cryogenic de-flashing on some of our rubber products to remove excess thin rubber around the mold parting lines.  The process used liquid nitrogen to freeze the parts almost to a point where they were brittle, and then the parts were blasted with plastic beads.  One day I walked out to the shipping dock, and I found pallets with frost on them.  The team had become so fast in their process of making this part from start to finish that they had de-flashed the parts, inspected them, packaged them, generated the shipping documents, and had the product ready to ship in such a short time that the parts had not yet cooled.  I was impressed!
 
Our lead times dropped from 10-12 weeks down to 2 weeks.  However, the teams would call our top customer's purchasing departments on an on-going basis, and determine the priority of need.  We were generally able to ship an urgent product the same day when necessary.  This incredible communication between the team and the customer grew out of pride of ownership; they wanted to do a great job for the customer!
 
I have a friend that implemented the same structure into his aerospace machine shop.  The work cells became so efficient that they were producing the product faster than the office could provide them with approved paperwork.  They had to flow the paperwork process, and implement improvements to overcome the office process constraint. 
 
LESSON LEARNED:
When a team has overall responsibility for the product, they can achieve very high efficiency, and pride of ownership. 
 
We never set up competition between product cells.  A major reason was that we moved personnel between cells based on customer orders.  One night I was at the office to check on something.  I came in through the back door and witnessed two product cells working together in perfect harmony.  One work cell had a couple of minutes of free time during the product cycle at the molding press.  The other team was struggling to keep up.  On their own, I saw team members from one team crossing over, and helping the other team during their free minutes.  It was truly magnificent! 
 
Peer pressure is another aspect of team delegation.  If the work cell is balanced properly, you are dependent on each other.  If someone does not carry their load, the other team members see it immediately.  The team also knows daily who works hard, and is passionate about what they do.  The team puts pressure on the team members that need it without requiring management to step in.  In rare cases, someone just will not work out, but normally people adjust.  We put in a peer review system to increase the accountability within the team.
 
LESSON LEARNED:
Peer pressure is a natural by-product of a team oriented balanced work cell.
 
I observed another major change in how our business functioned before and after empowerment.  Empowerment causes a change in information flow within the organization.  Prior to teams, the managers received the detail information, and then summarized it when delegating to supervisors or individuals.  When decisions such as scheduling and quality control move to the team, the detail must go to the team, and the summary information moves up to management.  This requires changing reports, and who has access to information.  Fortunately, this can evolve over time, but it takes resources to change it.
 
LESSON LEARNED:
Reporting and data access needs will change with the implementation of empowerment.
 
In the next newsletter, Mark Sessumes shares a high-level overview of why some implementations are not as successful.  He shares his concept of the three areas within lean that should be addressed in a preferred sequence.  He also shares about the need to change from a vertical to a horizontal enterprise, and shares some unexpected success stories in production areas that you would normally feel are outside of lean manufacturing.  Mark draws from experience as regional director of TMAC, a non-profit enterprise that has worked with more than 6,200 companies in Texas, and has $995 billion in cost savings and cost avoidance on materials, labor, inventory, and equipment.
 
*Lego is a registered trademark of the owner (Lego Juris A/S Corp.) and has no affiliation with or endorsement of Visionary Products, Inc. website or products. The interlocking blocks in the simulation are not manufactured by Lego. Lean Zone is a registered trademark of Visionary Products, Inc.