I was recently assigned to read the book “The Goal” for two separate classes of mine. As annoyed as I was to have to read additional material in each of these classes, this book intrigued me. But why? I work in a manufacturing facility that is non-union, fully automated, and operates through a High Performance Work System. Why would I be interested in a book about a non-efficient, union facility, that operates with an old school leader mentality.
For leaders to be successful in the 21st century they need to understand the culture within a manufacturing facility and what type of leadership style is no longer efficient. The book “The Goal” allowed me to, reflect on my leadership style, understand how automation has changed manufacturing, and how companies had to look at bottlenecks prior to the implementation of Lean Six Sigma in corporations. However, are we getting to far away from the old manufacturing ways?
Working in a facility that operates through an inverted triangle, I feel that leaders often obliged to what the hourly associates want and not always what is best for the customer. HPWS provides associates with the skills and tools to excel in operations, maintenance, and leadership. The leadership team is merely a support group to guide the team members to the correct decision. But where does my credibility and knowledge come into play? When am I more then doing what the team members want, because it is easier? Reading the book, “The Goal” I realized that I can use my knowledge to mentor and lead team members to making decisions that are what is best for the company. As a support to the associates I am still able to stand my ground when it comes to the overall Supply Chain Decisions but also communicate effectively to the teams on the why behind the decision. This allows them to buy into the plan an execute knowing we are doing what is best for the company.
Automation was and is still the way of the future. However how automation was introduced into manufacturing did not create full automated processes. This created bottlenecks within processes due to have a machine that is more efficient then the operations around. It is apparent the machines that were installed at UniCo, increased an efficiency number for that line, but over all throughput was still not meeting customer demand. This is because bottlenecks were then introduced throughout the operations. As I look at the design of the manufacturing facility I work for, I cannot imagine creating a production line that all equipment wasn’t able to have the same throughput. When engineering the facility, anywhere a bottleneck could occur due to downtime, there are contingences built into the line to minimize them. It makes me wonder, how much the bottlenecks of the past, presented solutions for the future?
The entire book walks through the process on how the team learned what is now referred to as Lean Six Sigma. The company had to essentially figure out the DMAIC process while working to better their operations in 3 months. Alex kept asking the question why and how. Essentially Alex proposed a 5 step process, that goes hand in hand with Lean Six Sigma. He proposed to identify the system’s bottlenecks, decide how to exploit the bottlenecks, subordinate everything else to the above decision, elevate the systems’ bottlenecks, and if in step 4, a bottleneck has been broken go back to step 1. What Alex and his team did in 3 months is a huge accomplishment. Even with the knowledge of Lean Six Sigma, it would be hard to turn a facility around in 3 months. This team utilized team work to brain storm how to change processes and implement changes.
With all of the new tools and automation that leadership/manufacturing plants have, do leaders have it to easy now? Do leaders not have to engage in continuous improvement efforts for strategic efforts? I often wonder if my current leadership team, could work together to improve the processes like Alex and his team did. Everyone had a hand in improving UniCo and they felt comfortable sharing ideas and strategies. I feel that nowadays business are to sensitive to have such constructive meetings in such a critical time. Everyone takes care of “their” responsibility and isn’t as loyal to the brand as Alex and his team were. It is hard to imagine businesses operating in the same manner they did before, but I think I want portions of that mentality to come back.
Overall, it was inspiring to read what Alex and the team did to improve the processes at UniCo. I know that I will often reflect on how they troubleshot the constraints within their facility as I continue to grow in my career in manufacturing. I hope one day, I am able to improve a process to some magnitude that Alex and his team did.