Driving Change with a Samurai Boss: The Team Owns It

Installment #5 continued from:

 Driving Change with a Samurai Boss(1)

The Power of the Team(2)

Leading with Dirty Hands(3)

The Anatomy of Productivity(4)

After our team members understood the three key dimensions of productivity, we’d show them exactly what data needed to be collected to measure those dimensions, and specifically how to collect it.

For measuring work methods we often used time studies, sometimes predetermined time standards based on time-motion studies. For measuring performance we used a combination of historical data and time or motion studies. For utilization we used a statistical technique called “work sampling” whereby we’d conduct thousands of random observations in the factory to measure, within a certain margin of error, uptime of both equipment and operators.

As you can see, except for our initial big-picture “classroom” training, the rest of the learning would have to be earned through actual work, an offshoot approach of the old Japanese apprenticeship model.

In kicking off the data-collection process we would go to the floor with team members and show them how to use a stopwatch then take it from there.

Together we’d perform work-sampling observations as well. In both cases we’d stay with our teammates until they got the hang of it. When they were ready to fly on their own we’d cut them loose. From this point on, they owned it.

Meanwhile we’d set up spread sheets and have them input all the data they were collecting. The spreadsheet outputs were charts and graphs showing line-balances, man-machine relationships, workload breakdowns, etc. When all the data was in, our senior Japanese consultants would analyze it together with the team, and make sure everyone understood “the current situation.”

Then we’d get to the fun part.

Let the Team Decide What to Do

Once our team reached consensus on the “current situation” of our target production line (including waste, problems, challenges, etc.,) we’d follow up with a brainstorming session where we requested input from everyone, with assurances that we welcomed even the craziest ideas. They never let us down.

Brainstorming is absolutely where my American compatriots shined, and it shouldn’t surprise. Americans pride themselves on being creative, fun, crazy, and out of the box—and it’s not like we’re shy about expressing our opinions or anything.

But if we Americans do have a weak point, it’s that our crazy ideas sometimes come with a cost. Hey, the company has lots of money, let’s buy new computers and automate everything!

The mindset of the Japanese, in contrast, is geared toward brainstorming high-impact-low-cost improvement ideas, picking the proverbial low-hanging fruit if you will. Japanese want to exhaust all the cheap ideas before spending any serious money, the essence of lean thinking when you get right down to it. And to get our American team members in the same lean state of mind, we had the perfect tool—we called it “ABC Analysis.”

ABC Analysis is a prioritization exercise aimed at identifying optimum ideas to implement first. From a human psychology perspective, it allows the team to participate in not only creating the ideas, but also participate in filtering out and prioritizing those ideas, based on a guiding criteria, for example, only using high-impact, low-cost, easy-to-implement measures, etc.

Using lean criteria virtually guarantees an attractive return on investment and (most important for us as a business entity), justified the amount of money the client would spend to retain our services; otherwise we weren’t adding value and they didn’t need us.

After we narrowed our list to the leanest meanest measures our imaginations could muster, we’d develop a return-on-investment analysis for upper management’s review along with a detailed implementation plan. Since we only selected high-impact-low-cost ideas, the ROI always looked good and we’d quickly win leadership’s approval. From this point forward the pressure was on us, as success hinged on the effectiveness of the team we were leading.

And our teams never let us down. In all projects we achieved productivity improvement results well into the double digits. Japanese leaders who worked for our clients marveled at how we got Japanese and American team members to work together so effectively. It wasn’t easy for sure. But it wasn’t rocket science either. Amazing what a little education and communication can do to get folks playing nice with each other.

I shake my head when people suggest that the “human dimension” is missing in the field of industrial engineering. As someone who walked in those moccasins, I can tell you that everything we did was human driven. It all came down to human psychology, human motivations, human limitations, human potential, human relationships. Our job was to orchestrate a harmonious union between wonderful but imperfect and inconsistent human beings, with technology, toward the goal of producing perfect products for demanding customers. It was both an art and a science applied at the intersection of two strikingly different cultures, truly a cultural anthropologist’s dream.

It was meaningful because there was no ambiguity, nothing theoretical about it; everything we did was quantified and analyzed. Either we hit our targets or we didn’t. (And we almost always did.) And yet it’s impossible to quantify exactly how much of an impact our cross-cultural “connecting” skills had on achieving these results. What I can say for sure is that without communication, nothing would have happened. Nothing.

And that brings us to our last post in this series, coming up next, Driving Change Across Cultures.

 Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2012

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