Who Should Run Your Factory

Once the Sales Manager had converted the customer order into a Visual Signaling Card at Mysore Kirloskar Hubli factory and placed it in its location on the assembly line, the entire execution thereafter was completely handled and controlled by the workmen. The production and procurement processes did not need the involvement of any supervision or managing, thereby leaving the Supervisors and Managers time to hone and improve the systems further. The workmen ran the pull production like a symphony, that broke the ice for Toyota’s entry and JV in India. This little fable I re-read today reminded me of it and highlights so beautifully the difference between lean and discrete / conventional or somehow manufacturing organizations:

  • Everyday a small Ant arrives at work and starts work immediately
  • He produces a lot and was happy
  • The CEO a Lion was surprised to see that the Ant was working without supervision
  • He thought if the Ant could produce so much without supervision, wouldn’t he produce more if he had a supervisor?
  • So he recruited a Cockroach who had extensive experience as a supervisor and who was famous for writing excellent reports
  • The Cockroaches first decision was to setup clocking in attendance system
  • He also needed a secretary to write and type his reports
  • He recruited a Spider who archived and monitored all his phone calls
  • The Lion was delighted with Cockroaches reports, and asked him to produce graphs to describe production rates and analyse trends so that he could use them for presentation at Board Meetings.
  • So the Cockroach had to buy a new computer and laser printer
  • And recruited a Fly to manage the IT department
  • The Ant, who had once been so productive and relaxed, hated this new plethora of paperwork and meetings which used up most of his time
  • The Lion decided that it was high time to nominate a head of the department where the Ant worked
  • The position was given to the Cicada whose first decision was to buy a carpet and an ergonomic chair for his office
  • The new person the Cicada, also needed a computer and a personal assistant, who he brought from his previous department, to help him prepare a Work and Budget Control Strategic Optimisation plan
  • The department where the Ant works is now a sad place, where nobody laughs anymore and everyone has become upset
  • It was at that time Cicada convinced the boss the Lion of the absolute necessity to start a climatic study of the environment
  • Having reviewed the charges for running the Ant’s department, the Lion found out that production was much less than before
  • So, he recruited an Owl the prestigious B-School grad and renowned consultant to carry out an audit and suggest solutions
  • The Owl spent three months in the department and came up with an enormous report in several volumes that concluded “The Department is Overstaffed”.
  • Guess who the Lion fires first?
  • The Ant! Because he showed lack of motivation and had a negative attitude!

Like it or not, such thinking / decisions / actions / directions prevails in varied forms in non-lean organizations. This is also what happens when a lean leader either leaves the organization or is asked to leave, and the new management has no clue about how the lean leader’s routine, behavior or had led the company.

This is no rocket science, but then why does common sense elude discrete manufacturing organisations? Some of the things to do to succeed with becoming lean are:

  1. The top management MUST lead in building the lean culture. Their management style must change to include their living the principles of lean manufacturing.
  2. Disruption from successfully implementing the lean processes usually comes from the top management. By doing (1) above, they must become enablers rather than disruptors.
  3. The most difficult situations or such perceived ones are the best time to embed the lean thinking and practices firmly through learning.
  4. The wish to become lean should not be a mere statement; then it’s lip service. Instead it should become the number one strategic goal of the organisation. It should be the mission statement and the policy deployment.
  5. Companies that practice lean continuously 24 x 7 succeed in getting better results and grow well organically. Companies that put up an act to show in compliance always end up a failure.
  6. Merely implementing a dozen tools will never make a company lean, it’s in the routine and behavior and managing them.
  7. Workers run lean production, others improve systems, new designs, innovate with new ideas, improve processes, reduce inventory, improve flow, build competitive advantage, improve customer satisfaction etc.