Monday, July 11, 2005

Reason #2: Lack of Communication

Rubrich says that Reasons #1 and #2 are "fatal errors" for a lean implementation. "Lacking either of these support elements, WCE (lean) will inevitably end up with other company initiatives in the "program of the month" graveyard.

There are many aspects and levels of communication required to avoid a lean implementation failure. Rubrich says that initial steps include a major announcement of the coming changes, but then also having "management visible and available to thoroughly discuss the change on all shifts for the first few days after the change announcement."

I think that is an important step and a sign of respect for all of your employees. If your lean initiative is something for only the leadership team to know about and discuss, you're missing the boat. If you want your employees and production associates to be engaged in the spirit of kaizen, you have to listen to their concerns and fears and address their questions. Be out there on the shopfloor, the "gemba" (actual place), don't retreat back to your offices (or better yet, move your offices closer to the shopfloor!).

Rubrich's book outlines the additional forms of communication required through a lean implementation. What stories do you have of lean miscommunications or related "lean failures?" Click "comments" to add your experiences or share tips for good management communication.

Click Here to Buy the Book "How to Prevent Lean Implementation Failures.".


Mark Graban said...

I remember the very early stages of a lean, I mean "synchronous manufacturing", implementation at a GM parts plant in the mid 1990's.

One communication aspect we had to be aware of was "lean" being a dirty word with the UAW. They strongly associated "lean" with cutting heads and "lean and mean." We had to dance around the word lean, either synchronous or "competitive manufacturing" were acceptable (and somewhat non descriptive to tell employees we were going to be "synchronous").

I've also seen other environments where people felt the need to downplay the Japanese or Toyota connection. Even without that, I personally find it helpful to avoid the Japanese "buzzwords", other than kanban. I think some consultants and trainers like to play the game of trying to impress or overwhelm the client with all of the buzzwords, as if to reinforce how smart they are.

Anonymous said...

When our lean efforts started at GM, our new plant manager (NUMMI trained) came in spent a lot of time walking the factory and listening to people. I thought that was very impressive to come in and really see the problems and try to build trust with employees, as much as he could as the plant manager in a UAW environment. He could have come in "both barrels blazing" especially since he probably had a good idea of what to do to turn the factory around.

After a few months, the plant manager held an "all hands" meeting, including all of the production workers (a good sign, he's including them in the communication and not just focusing on the salaried employees).

He was trying to make his "case for change" in a very data driven factual way. He put up slide after slide showing how bad our plant performance was, particularly compared to our peers and competitors.

After all of the data, he had a summary slide that was, while factually true, probably a poor communication choice.

Our plant, we were told, was the worst engine plant. The engine sector was the worst part of powertrain. Powertrain was the worst performing part of GM and GM was the worst performing car company. Oh yeah, and the auto industry has really poor financial results.

We were "the worst of the worst of the worst of the worst of the worst."

This was supposed to be a rallying cry, that we were going to get better. It also hurt people's pride, I think, too. Many people there had worked for decades at GM and had been at the plant the whole time it was open. I learned it's hard to come in as an outsider and tell people their plant is "the worst."

The UAW also had fits and had fliers printed up THAT AFTERNOON, capitalizing on how the plant manager had supposedly insulted all of the employees, calling THEM "the worst of the worst....".

That's not what the plant manager was saying at all. He made sure to tell the employees that the plant performance was horrible and that was due to bad management, not bad workers, but I don't think that message got across.

Good news is that the plant did make pretty amazing improvements over the next few years, moving into the upper quartile of their benchmark plants. It taught me to be careful in how to communicate that need for change.