They called him Big Pres. He was a massive man with a full head of steel gray hair. His hands told the story of his life—tanned and enlarged by hard work over many years. Born on a farm out West, he knew how to wrangle cattle and mend electric fences. He could fix just about anything, but he planned to retire soon because the physical work at the factory was getting to him.
One night over dinner he told his family about something amazing that had happened at work. At that point, he was working in manufacturing, making high-end lawn mowers. In his part of the operation, the motors came in from another area and he added the metal casing and final parts.
He said that his boss had decided that there must be ways to improve the production process–possibly speeding it up and possibly even producing defect-free machines. So workers involved in making the lawnmowers sat down and together flow-charted the process—created a picture of all the current major steps—then discussed what was working well and what caused them heartburn.
Big Pres was talking with the person who signed off on the motors before they came to him. Big Pres said, “The thing that I find hardest is lifting the motors out of the containers since we get them upside down. They are really hard to get out. They are not only heavy, but it’s hard to get a grip on them. Why do they have to be packed upside down?”
Long silence. The fellow from the other area said, “They don’t have to be, it’s just the way we have always packed them.” At the report-out on process improvement ideas, the two men shared their mutual discovery and a new, more efficient, less taxing way of handing off the motors was planned.
This true story illustrates many things—the wisdom of seeing all work as a process; the improvement that comes from understanding what happens in the hand-offs and transfers; the value of front-line workers being involved in improving those processes, and the imperative for leadership to make these things happen.
Kathleen A. Paris, Ph.D., helps organizations improve their systems and plan for the future in uncertain times.
Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash