Fringes of Perfection

We seek to touch the fringes of perfection. ~ OC Tanner

machiningDeveloping a lean culture where I work is one of the challenges I take on. Over the years I have used many tools and techniques, keeping some core elements consistent and adjusting to fit in to the team or the organization in a way that compliments their own lean maturity or place on the journey. Personally I follow a system of Share – Learn – Grow which you can find out more about at my home page HERE.  This week I was able to focus for two days on Learn by visiting four award winning manufacturing operations in Utah and getting a glimpse at what they are doing to succeed. The company I work for values learning and sponsored the trip which included four other coworkers from two different sites and four different functions including Process Improvement, Quality, Industrial Engineering and Operations Management.

The four companies we visited were JD Machine and Barnes Aerospace in Ogden, US Synthetic in Orem and OC Tanner in Salt Lake City. If you want to know more about what these companies do specifically check out their websites. These companies were selected for this trip based on industry recognition for operational excellence including being winners of the Shingo Prize. Each company gave tremendous insight in to their organizations principles and the systems they have put in place to internalize operational excellence and make their companies extremely successful and rewarding for their employees.

Each visit included an overview of the company and their lean journey which was delivered in 3 of the 4 companies by the owner or a direct report to the CEO as an indication of the value these companies place on their lean systems and also the respect they have for the company we were representing, Raytheon.  The introduction was followed by a tour of the factory and in some cases office areas, where we were able to see and ask questions. At OC Tanner we were able to visit the production cell where they make anniversary award pins for Raytheon. This was fun and a nice touch that OC Tanner took special steps to make happen. We met the members of the production cell and watched what they do to make our awards and the pride they take in their work was evident. It was clearly fun for them also to get to meet real customers.

These companies are doing a lot of things right and there were a number of key characteristics that stood out prominently. The focus on people was clearly a core principle at each company and we frequently saw “improving lives” in the core principles at these companies. This was not management lip service but the direct observation and discussion with employees. Each company had designed specific programs to indicate how much respect and care they had for employees and their development as employees and people. There were costs associated with these programs but the companies were clearly happy to pay those costs for the return in employee productivity and loyalty they received in return.
Best Example of Focus on Employees: JD Machine – Journeyman Machinist Program

Employee engagement in problem solving was incredibly impressive at each of these companies. Over and over we would observe an improvement that had been made or a program that had been started and ask who made this happen and almost always the answer was, a team member did that. By team member I mean the hourly workers from the production cells. These are the value add employees, not the engineers or managers. There were examples where support staff was needed to design or implement a change, but the clear standard was making improvements at the point where the work is being done.
Best Example of Employee Engagement – US Synthetic Kaizen

Each company had a strong culture of focusing on improving results. They establish critical metrics, set goals, measure frequently, make abnormal or undesirable conditions visible, take action to correct problems and share what they are doing. By measuring frequently, in most cases the cell team members were checking and posting results every 15 to 20 minutes. In one case they were using 2 hour increments, but that was the longest. Let me emphasize that this was not management coming around and checking results. This was the production cell posting their results and figuring out what was wrong and what to do about it. Management was informed at the point an employee needed to step away from their station to work on the improvement.
Best Example of Visual Management and 6S – Barnes Aerospace Team Boards and Visual Management

Finally and most importantly was culture. This is a hard thing to explain, representing the best of the things mentioned above. We saw examples from every company that just made you shake your head at how much the employees clearly loved the work they were doing, no matter how mundane the task. This has been built over years of consistently applying principles and systems that value the worth of individuals well beyond the person’s ability to contribute to the profitability of the company. Each day I would ask the members of our team, if you had to pick one of these companies to go work for today, which one would it be and why? Asking and answering this question was how I summed up what we thought and felt about the culture of each company. That said, all of these companies were excellent employers and the people there are happy to stay with turnover rates at or below 3%. The most important thing theses companies do to develop the culture was the connection that flowed from Principles to Systems to Large Organization Performance Goals to Small Team Performance Goals and spending enough time listening to employees talk about how they feel they relate to the goals of the company.
Best Example of Culture – OC Tanner Principles, Systems, Policy Deployment, Gemba

My thanks goes out to the individuals at each company who took time out to make us feel welcome and help us learn. This was a valuable and rewarding trip which will help us move another step forward on our lean journey.

(Views expressed are my own and not those of Raytheon)

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