CEO Obama

So, the White House asked Rick Wagoner to step aside. O.k., fine. Probably needed to happen, right? Here is a link to William Holstein's op-ed contribution on this matter, published in the 3/30/09 edition of the NY Times:


I agree with Holstein on one issue: President Obama made this move for political expediency. Has Obama run a company? Does he know what this looks like to the rest of us out here? Is he really this detached from what is happening in the genba? Of course the answer is, yes! He spends no time in genba but in a conference room trying to solve problems! Oh, populist politics, you are so comforting and irresistible!

I confess, you are right. None of my rhetoric is the point here. Well, here it is: overall, Holstein completely misses the point. TENS of BILLIONS of OUR hard earned money (well, actually an IOU to ourselves and the Chinese) have been thrown at GM and the end result is probably going to be bankruptcy anyway! This fate is due GM, despite matching Toyota in quality and narrowing the cost gap. We must admit - GM is a big money sucking machine and it MUST shed amounts of overhead that will make this country shudder. Would we NOT do the same thing in our own household if facing foreclosure? I think I would at least try.

GM IS too big for the current market situation. But it MUST fail in order for something that emerges to be competitive in the future. Despite its past successes (the first electric car [EVO, remember that? ] ! ) and next year the Chevy Volt will be the first extended range ELECTRIC (not hybrid) car to hit the market. Some people will buy it. Does Toyota have one of these? Nope. And we don't see Toyota in front of Congress? What is happening here?

It is time to stop the finger pointing and blame game, but nobody would know this if you watch TV, listen to the radio or read the garbage in our newspapers.

Nope, none of us would know this watching the "critical thinking" in the media, but we all know in our gut that GM should have been facing bankruptcy back in the fall of 2008, and the taxpayers' money could have been used more wisely - that is - keep the company afloat while new PRIVATE concerns figure out what to do with it, with THEIR money, not mine and yours. Now, it looks like we may be stuck with this mess for twice the amount that we involuntarily signed up for.

Yes, Wagoner is 15 years too late on his restructuring. If you have read Factory Man, by Jim Harbour, you get a sense of the chronology that has led up to the current GM and Chrysler mess. But Wagoner didn't cause ANY of this on his own. One person can't stop the inertia behind decades of successes and failures. All of us in industry KNOW that inertia is as an axiom that one person cannot overcome alone. Yet we all asked Wagoner to do this. And now we honestly think that Congress can do it with a few words from the teleprompter and legislation that costs us more money than we can afford. Change as most of us have experienced, doesn't match even .001% of the furious change that GM MUST face in the coming year. Yet, we rejoice in the public blame of one man. The finger pointing continues, when it really needs to stop so GM can face their problems head on. Unfortunately for the employees of GM, the next "burning platform" they will be asked to tackle will be under the smothering blanket of bankruptcy.

Most laughable out of all this and Holstein probably missed another matter before press time: according to the intermin GM CEO, Barack Obama, the Government is going to guarantee warranty on GM vehicles? Ha! Has anyone seen what the most efficient operation the government is operating has been up to lately: the U.S. Postal Service? This is getting more entertaining by the day!

Am I a Big Three apologist? No. Far from it. If GM fails, well, o.k. then, they fail. We will cross that bridge when we get to it, but know that it is coming and we need to plan for the worst case scenario. In lean, we talk a lot about people embracing problems and not sweeping them under the rug. Once we are there, failure is something that any American can muster up courage to face.

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Winner: Best explanation of Lean this Year

Brief and obscure article link. This is important for auto repair shops. The current market conditions have created an opportunity for auto repair to grow their business. People are not buying new cars, so the trend is moving towards repair of the cars already in ownership. Here are the highlights that give them my Best Explanation of Lean this Year Award:

"Instead of pursuing your competition or chasing benchmarks, the organization must pursue perfection."

"In our business, our objective is not to fix cars, but to fix the process of fixing cars."

"In a lean environment, the entire objective of the business is to do nothing but improve the process, so there is almost zero focus on fixing cars."

"The beauty of it is that you are fixing cars while you are doing this [fixing the process]."

"You're just not thinking about how to get that particular job done, but how you can improve your step in the process in relation to what everybody else is doing."

"Once you're there, it's very simple to execute."

What makes this the best explanation of the year? For one, you could take out the phrase "fixing cars" and replace it with "serving burgers", "building kites" or "welding ship hulls". Also, the explanation focuses on a couple of key points for lean thinking:

1) All hands on deck focus on the process, not what we provide or make.

2) The process of fixing the process is done simultaneously with the task of adding value. Although not explicit, this is the key when considering the use of Standard Work and Kaizen. By stabilizing the process, through standard work, and completing the daily work according to our customer oriented objectives, we can think of new ways to solve our problems (kaizen).

However, the last statement is the icing on the cake and one that I think many leansters may feel is quite understated. "Once you are there" has so many unanswered questions buried within it. How long to get there? Answer: who knows? Is it simple? I don't think so.

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Changing Culture with TWI Skills

Reliable Plant has a featured article by Maureen Conway. Ms. Conway has been involved with TWI for a number of years now. She has provided keen insight by way of case studies at the TWI Summit. If you can get to Cincinatti in May, please do so and make sure you block some time to talk with Maureen about how TWI can help your organization develop your people.

I would add one critical key points for those of you who take the time to read through Ms. Conway's article and upcoming series on TWI and Lean culture:

Ms. Conway states: "Survey results have shown that top-down support for a TWI implementation roll-out is critical."

The premise here is that by engaging top management in Management Overview Sessions we get buy-in. In my experience this gets good results, but it rarely gets commitment to the development of skills. Management Overview Sessions often get top management engaged because they see the potential for results. Let me make this very clear: TWI programs are designed to provide a robust PROCESS for management to develop their peoples' continuous improvement skills. A result is ROI and a changed culture. To be concise, management needs to KNOW the TWI skills, by first learning them, so that they can EFFECTIVELY teach others. This is real commitment.

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Ask - Do NOT Tell

I've been wrestling for years now about the different Levels of Problem Solving and Implications that has on People - both from a management perspective and the viewpoint of a worker. My basic conclusion is that much more is gained by asking and not telling each other what to do. Can this apply at all levels? To stick to my own rule, I'll try to outline my arugment here, only by asking questions. You tell me if this sticks to the wall or not.

Basic criteria of progression from simple problem solving to sophisticated problem solving.

Level 1 - Can we see problem?
Level 2 - Can the individucal improve on their own?
Level 3 - Can more than one person improve together on it?
Level 4 - Can cross functional teams improve it?
Level 5 - Are we determining ways to advance HOW we improve?

Each of these criteria have practical implications which can be addressed through more questioning:

Level 1 - Do people use a factual approach to problem solving? Do they go to the workplace to see the problem? Do they use facts to understand, or emotion? Can they determine cause-and-effect? Do they get to root cause? Do they ask questions to understand what is really happening?

Level 2 - Is it enough to simply identify problems? Are people coming up with ideas to solve their problems? Do people accept their responsibility? Do we give it to them? Do we allow them to make mistakes? Are people improving themselves and their work first, before pointing out to others how to improve?

Level 3 - How do we increase our performance beyond having individuals solve problems? Do we encourage individauls to work out problems with others on their own? Do we have robust systems in place that allow individuals to improve how they work together? Are the methods used here the foundation for communication and standardization across the organization?

Level 4 - Can people see how their area and groups affect other areas and groups? Are we focused on local optimization, or systematic performance? Can people mentally jump through and into levels 1-4 quickly, making the connection between business objectives and individual solutions? Are big problems broken down into small problems? Do people understand their role when the organization tackles big problems? Have we fully developed them to meet the demands of their current role? Do they know where we need to be? Do we know where we need to be? How does this understanding translate into one cohesive problem that can be tackled by the organization? Do we know how we are going to get there? Do we know where people best fit with their current capabilities? Are we developing people so that everyone is at Level 4? Do we use the foundations created in Levels 1-3 or do we frequently try and reinvent the wheel?

Level 5 – Are leaders teaching people so that they move up the levels? Are the students able to teach others? Are we ensuring that people master one level before moving to another? Is our problem solving system complex and full of waste? Or is it simple, nimble, scalable and ready for use? Are the elements of each level present at the highest levels of problem solving? Or are they lost to time, attrition, apathy and inactivity? Do we respect the past methods used? Are we adopting principles blindly? Or are we adapting to our environment with the principles as our guide? Are upgrading everybody's problem solving skill, regardless of which level they are at? Do we put the tools first? Or do we put people first?

Conclusion: Is asking or telling better? Which method will help us understand our own problems better? Which method is going to be more likely to prompt action?

One last thought: Is this a way of putting the cart before the horse? Do we sometimes overload ourselves with the unrealistic burden to get to the highest level before we are ready?

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Eli Goldratt on the Economic "Crisis" - Video Link

O.k., block out 1-1/2 hours and watch this video. You WILL NOT regret it.

I don't even know how to explain this. You need to watch it to understand.




Genba Comic #7

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Multitasking Tactic

"The shortest way to do many things is to do one thing at once."

-Samuel Smiles

This reminds me of a keypoint to the TWI problem solving approach: "Tackle only one problem at a time."

I honestly think that multitasking is overated, but that may be because I'm not all that great at it.


Keypoints in Ergo Design

Keypoints make all the difference in how something is done effortlessly and correctly.

Designing things and how people interact with them are no different. Take for example the design of a car. How many of you still guess at which side of the car your gas cap is on? How many of you do it while you are driving into the gas lot? O.k., this is pretty standard on most cars nowadays. I still forget to look for the little arrow on the dash, and it is even more important when you are driving a different rental car every week.

Other small keypoints: how do you open your door? Do your knees hit the steering wheel? These are things we don't really think about, but auto interior engineers have made a career out of this - and they should. Cars are pretty much the same now - it is the attention to detail - the keypoints that will make all the difference in how consumers perceive value in the days ahead.

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Six Sigma Vs. Lean

In a recent Industry Week e-newsletter, a Benchmarking Brief indicates that Six Sigma is a significant means of how IW Best Plant Winners improve quality.


I have a really hard time with the term "completely implemented". I don't have a real firm opinion about this, but I feel like a problem with Six Sigma adoption is its project oriented approach. Not that Lean isn't often viewed in the same light, but Six Sigma is marketed, sold, trained and therefore implemented by specialists.

I know, I know, Lean is rolled out across this country practically the same way. But my guess is that if a company stated that Lean was "completely implemented", it may mean something completely different than "completely implemening" Six Sigma.

With Six Sigma, the perception is that specialists are running the program. With Lean, the perception is that total employee involvement is necessary. What does "completely implemented" look like in either scenario?


TWI & Lean Specialists - Clothing and Apparel Production

Thanks to Kathleen Fasanella for brining TWI to the attention of Fashion Incubator readers. The TWI Service site has the most online materials anywhere for TWI programs. For FI readers who are in the clothing production industry, you may find the TWI-Eton systems in South Africa of special interest.


This group may have the longest running "modern" TWI supervisory program outside of Japan. I don't know if it is private or public organization, but they seem to specialize in clothing production. If you are in clothing and are curious about how TWI can help you, they may be the people to call. Hope this helps!

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Standardization is Key to Meet our Ideal State

Interesting conversation from a Job Instruction session:

Participant: "You say that JI is one-on-one training. I may get a large order any day and have to train 30 people instantly. That is our current business situation. Can I train small groups of people?"

JI trainer: "Well, JI is one-on-one training. Knowledge isn't passed efficiently in large groups."

Participant: "When I was in the army, gun cleaning, assembly and disassembly is done in large groups, and the method used is basically JI. What is the difference?"

Hmmm...to answer this question - we have to get back to basics.

Let's start with a questioning attitude: What is the difference between our shop floor processes and the process of disassembling, cleaning and assembling a military issue rifle?

This participant had been blessed with the experience of an ideal state of efficiency - many people learning and performing at a similar level in a very short period of time. Why couldn't we o the same thing?

One word: standardization. Her assumption is that our manufacturing processes are AS standardized as interchangeable parts of military grade weapons.

Without standardization this supervisor will encounter the following problems when training groups of people using JI (or any training method for that matter) :

Training a group will not guarantee the individual trainee the best the trainer has to offer. Because one person learns faster than the other, hard feelings can result. On the other hand, one person who learns fast will be left on their own sooner, potentially leaving many unanswered questions in the mind of the quick learner. Both scenarios can foster resentment. Trust me, this happened to me once: "What's the harm in training two people?" I didn't think much of it at the time, but I regretted it later because I didn't consider different learning styles.

Back to our example. In this supervisors case, only a couple of workstations are available for her to commission for training. Having 18 other people watch two people train will result in a number of problems. For one, boredom. Nobody is watching or listening after 15 minutes. Instead, they are a member of the peanut gallery - judging what they are seeing. "I can do better than that method" "I did that this way at my last job." Second, side conversations occur when OJT is used to tackle a group. Not everyone can train at the same time, so people fill their time. To summarize, group training works effectively and efficiently when EVERYONE is involved and the job is so darn standardized and error proofed that the trainer doesn't have to worry about 98% of the keypoints being done wrong. Even still, subtle points can be missed even in the best of situations.

That's why soldiers have their rifles inspected. It is not enough to "tell" and "show" and hope that all is well. We have to make sure that our training is effective and this means follow up. Standardization is key here as well.

Watch this video. Imagine: what if the rifles were NOT standardized?

Now consider these questions if we assume the weapons were not standardized:

If they were training fellow soldiers, would the group of trainers and trainees experience some of the problems I described above?

During training, could keypoints be missed?

Would everyone be operating at this level? (Cycle time within fractions of a second)

This is why a major lesson learned in JI is the value of PREPARATION and then execution. The execution is easy at a one-on-one level if the right preparation is done. Of course, this spans many disciplines - but if the materials are not correct, machines not set, schedules determined, order of operations not defined, location of tools and materials ire disorganized - we stand little chance of all 30 people "getting it". We then have to train each on as an individual so that "we know they know" the job as well as we do. Otherwise, we should expect different results than those on the plan.

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Protecting the Worker

This leader tried to put himself in the shoes of his people. Then, he asked them for their ideas. Then he did the opposite of what most businesses are doing now - he is protecting the workers before he protects himself. And he did it in a way that most managers and professionals we see in the papers lack the courage to do. Read on...

Beth Israel's CEO May Have Found an Alternative to Layoffs

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WHY Must This Happen?

This is irritating.

From the Safety Files at online mag, Machine Design.com, we learn how poor maintenance resulted in an on the job injury.

Bottom line: a poorly maintained dock leveler crushed a person’s hand. We can imagine how a five why session may play out in this situation. If you prefer to, please go to the article link above and follow along with the full story and pictures.

Q - WHY did the person’s hand get crushed?
A - The lip on the ramp hit the truck, building up tension and then jumped loose, pinching his hand.

Q - WHY did the truck hit the ramp?
A - Well, it wasn’t the truck that hit the ramp. It’s really the other way around. Normally the ramp clears the truck bed and then in full extension the lifter it swings the lip to extend from vertical to horizontal. This time it didn’t. So the lip just got caught on the truck.

Q - O.k. WHY didn’t the lifter clear the truck bed?
A - Well it did, but it just didn’t get to its full extension which is what swings out the lip and bridge the gap between the dock and truck bed.

Q - O.k., so WHY didn’t the lifter reach full extension?
A - I’m not sure. But we do know it doesn’t work the way it should. I have to manually lift that lip each time. I’ve asked to have somebody take a look at it but nothing has been done.

Q - HOW do you lift that safely then?
A - Well, I use a hook to pull the chain that engages lift mechanism. That allows me to manually lift the lip edge from inside the truck while the dock lowers.

Q - Is that hook provided by the manufacturer?
A - Nope. I made it so I could get the job done. Drivers are waiting for me you know and we have ontime shipments to make!

Q - Well, HOW does the manufacturer recommend to you the operation of that lift?
A - Normally the chain is pulled through a hole on the other side of the ramp. But because it doesn’t work, I have to be on that side of the ramp, inside the truck, to make it work correctly. The hook allows me to pull the chain from inside the truck.

Q - Let's ask a mechanic why that lift mechanism isn't working properly...

By now you should be getting the point, of which there are many.

#1 - A questioning attitude in the genba is the only way to see and understand these types of problems. Hosin Kanri workshops for five days and four glorious nights at an offsite conference center in San Diego will not solve this problem. Only a genba approach will do. (My apologies to Hoshin Kanri consultants in San Diego who may offer pricey workshops for five days - it just seemed like a nice place to go when you are in Vermont and WINTER WON'T GO AWAY!)

#2 - NEVER stop questioning until you get to root cause and can verify your line of questioning through cause and effect. 5Y doesn't really mean ONLY to ask WHY? five times. (tangential- random-thought-taking-over: The next time I see a 5Y worksheet with only five questions on it...well, that's what us lean consultants have marketed it as, eh? We only have ourselves to blame.)

#3 - Our problems do not exist on their own - they live on and become parasitic because we allow them to. The system is a direct reflection of the architects and keepers of that system - namely MANAGEMENT. Leaders make management better.

#4 - There is a saying in lean: "to find the waste, look for the piles of inventory." The same is true with makeshift devices. The makeshift hook is a clue for shopfloor leaders that something is wrong.

#5 - The MOST troubling point out of all of this is that the drivers "had repeatedly complained about the dock leveler problems" - yet NOTHING was done. Scratch that - management allowed something to be done: they permitted the driver to craft a hook so he could operate defective equipment that put his family's livelihood, the business itself, other truck drivers and the leveler manufacturer at risk. This scenario represents the eighth waste in manufacturing - waste of intellect and at the very least it demonstrates ZERO respect for people and in this case the lack of respect went WAY beyond just the employee.

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Genba Comic #6

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Clean Doesn't Always Mean Lean

Mark Graban went on quite a rant the other day at the LeanBlog - cutting up the inspector that was involved with the salmonella outbreaks at the Peanut Corporation of America. This is one story that means a lot to me - I LOVE peanut butter. Well that fact explains why I read the news story linked to Mark's blog post - I wanted to know how this company defiled my second true love!

Mark admirably picked apart all of the problems with the private sector inspection process. We can only assume that the FDA inspection equals the level of the private sector inspection - but at eight times the cost. (Side note: that fact doesn't inspire me to want to go out and sign up for universal healthcare right at this moment!)

Regarding the poisoning of our food, my intuition tells me that it is a rare occasion that these outbreaks occur - and statistically it affects a very small fraction of the population - in this case 0.008% of the U.S. population. That statistic is not exactly heartwarming to the families of nine people who died or encouraging to the 22,500 who were sickened. Regardless, it helps us understand the concept of risk, no?

How could the inspector have missed this? There are many reasons. Mark covered many of them, mostly procedural and bureaucratic or just simply can be written off to laziness or apathy.

There is one quote however that jumped off the page at me:

"Audits are not required by the government, but food companies are increasingly requiring suppliers to undergo them as a way to ensure safety and minimize liability. The rigor of audits varies widely and many companies choose the cheapest ones, which cost as little as $1,000, in contrast to the $8,000 the Food and Drug Administration spends to inspect a plant. Typically, the private auditors inspect only manufacturing plants, not the suppliers that feed ingredients to those facilities. Nor do they commonly test the actual food products for pathogens, even though gleaming production lines can turn out poisoned fare. "

O.k., let me get this straight:

  1. Audits are not required by the FDA,

  2. Consumer safety is seen as important,

  3. Liability, or the cost of reputation, is also important,

  4. We don't want to spend a lot of money on auditing,

  5. We go with the lowest bidder,

  6. We also know that "gleaming production lines can turn out poisoned fare."
Wow, this last point is not only a little scary but most important in making my point. It implies that we are either lulled into complacency by first impressions, we can't see problems through the high gloss of appearance, or we are not looking for problems in the first place. Even the cleanest, best looking operation in the world can turn out scrap. That doesn't sound possible, but we all know it is true. We cannot let first impressions deceive us - we have to go to the genba and understand if the process capability and resulting quality will reconcile with our impressions.

This is a core skill for lean businesses - and one that we cannot delegate to outsiders. The outsiders should be helping us get better at our own self-assessment. This is why we must encourage people to look for, embrace and figure out solutions to problems. In fact, since we are already paying people, it is cheaper to have them do their own diagnostic assessment of the operation. And, if we ask them, often they will tell us the problems they have known about for years and even have solutions for them! Imagine that! We can blame the auditor, but that doesn't solve the problem. We first have to look at ourselves as managers for not developing a culture that embraces problem identification before the problem turns into a consumer safety issue.

By the way, Teddie Peanut Butter is the best!

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Big Three: "From Kings of the Road to Roadkill"

Link is to a speech made at Hillsdale College on January 26, 2009.

Joseph B. White writes for the WSJ. I think what he says is probably the most complete and accurate synopsis of what we can expect from the mainstream media on this matter.

I'm not an expert on the matter, but I think we don't necessarily give the Big Three a fair and balanced shake. For example, White (as well as most Leansters) portrays Japanese quality as being rock solid as soon as they rolled off the boat. This simply wasn't true. Toyota themselves early on found that their engines weren't up to the endurance Americans subjected them to on our long distance highways. And I don't know about you, but the one thing that sticks out in my mind about early Toyotas are the pickup beds that COMPLETELY rusted out. Owners replaced their beds with pressure treated lumber rather than risk another shakedown through several Vermont winters with a metal one. It was kind of an underground aftermarket product up here in New England for many years! See craftsmanship above!

Anyway, the point isn't that White missed some of these low points in Toyota's entry into the U.S. market. He simply made the standard declaration that by some magic of Japanese management principles, imports were of better quality because they were better engineers.

I believe this is only (sort of) half true. What I understand is that companies like Toyota, LEARN HOW TO LEARN from their mistakes. For a few years pre-2000, there were some really bad paint problems with Ford products. I can't remember the model line, but certain Ford paint products were peeling off. Just recently, I saw another Ford car with the same problem, nearly ten years later. Why hasn't this problem been eliminated? Has Ford learned from their mistake?

It seems that they may be, but I'm not convinced (again, chronic quality problems are perceived to be only with Big Three). As Jim Harbour points out in his new book, Factory Man, the Big Three have closed the productivity gap. A lot of those gains came from better quality design. But the Big Three have a long way to go regarding quality in other aspects of their business.

White makes a strong case for how this quality mindset is still lacking in Detroit. He quotes Rick Wagoner to set up his premsie, recently in front of Congress, as he reflected on what GM could have done differently instead of paying off UAW concessions:

"Obviously, if we had the $103 billion and could use it for other things, it would enable us to be even farther ahead on technology or newer equipment in our plants, or whatever."

This 'whatever' is the sticking point of course. Wagoner's acknowledgment of 'whatever' either illustrates that he was too exacerbated to explain 'whatever' to Congress (can't say I blame him) or perhaps he doesn't have a good grasp of whatever 'whatever' really is. Leansters have an idea, (of course!), but the thought of dragging a company as big as GM out of 'whatever' and into a different level of thinking is overwhelming to say the least and beyond the grasp of any one lean thinking individual.

White uses Wagoner's Cognressional testimony of whatever as a launching point to paint a picture of the overall problem: quality. The cost, level and perception of quality is strongly tied to inventory, technology, employee involvement and hundreds of other business concepts; a holistic approach that requires lean thinking. White does a fantastic job of tying together the labor relations, overproduction of fleet inventory to make up the Japanese-American cost gap and its devestating impact on value, quality perceptions and how all of that currently put GM in its dire situation.

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Lean Book Review: Factory Man by James Harbour

Book Title - Factory Man

Author - Jim Harbour with James Higgins

President Obama's pseudo-car czar advisor, Steven Rattner, has quite a task ahead of him. He will serve as a senior advisor under Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, the dynamic duo in charge of the auto bailouts. Robin Hood and his band of merry men may determine the fate of GM and Chrysler within the next four years - turnaround or bankruptcy; yet there is zero industry experience between the three of them – only experience in spending taxpayers’ money. There is another, longer lasting and prosperous option: industry needs to adapt to the economic situation and help itself, or die. All parties would be well served to consult with Jim Harbour, the "Factory Man", on this matter.

As Harbour puts it, he has "spent nearly 60 years thinking about the factory floor, and here's how I believe it should be run." We should heed Harbour's advice. The auto industry, media and markets have looked to The Harbour Report for many years as the benchmark study largely responsible for opening the eyes of the Big Three regarding the U.S.-Japanese productivity gap. Now that gap is paper thin in the passenger car segment. The Japanese are not much more productive or in some cases, such as the truck and SUV segment, are less productive than the Big Three. Harbour’s conclusion is that the next step for the Big Three is the need to go beyond productivity gains. This is something the bailout is NOT going to fix, it can only be fixed from within. That means to continue the reorganization efforts started by GM’s Rick Wagoner in the mid-nineties in order to compete with the Japanese as an organization, not just at the assembly line level. It means tough talks with the unions and with politicians. And it also means a reduction of model lines and mass standardization. But do not think this book is a manifesto to fix Detroit’s manufacturing problems. Harbour’s plan goes beyond the auto industry and to the heart of the problem – the demise of manufacturing’s importance in American society, economics and the middle class. Factory Man clearly defines the "common" strawman that ALL of industry, i.e. Americans, can adopt and adapt if we are only willing.

What’s New?

Harbour has a reputation for his no-nonsense, straightforward approach. Incidentally, this may be the first Lean book with expletives. That approach isn't new for Harbour, but for Lean practitioners - this book should serve as the start of growing trend of U.S. born Lean books: a take no prisoners message that drives a stake in the heart of the problem in U.S. manufacturing - 1) lack of respect for people and 2) lack of a basic understanding in how our economy and industry works to create lasting wealth. Harbour uses facts and his experiences to illustrate how we got in the current auto bailout situation - and it isn't a pretty picture. He lays blame at the feet of the senior leadership of the Big Three AND Congress - and if his facts are correct, he is more than justified to do so. There is no good reason to doubt his facts; yet I don't get the impression that he wrote this book to make any new friends. Harbour’s message is born from the bitter experience of watching something he loved dearly, die a slow death.

However, in the spirit of kaizen, Harbour lays out a plan for the rebirth of auto manufacturers - which could be applied to any business strategy in these tough economic times. Here you will find many firsthand examples of how U.S. companies in pharmaceuticals, consumer goods and heavy industry are applying Harbour’s "3C" plan and are winning at it. These stories will sound familiar to lean practitioners involved with transformations, turnarounds and such. However, the big unanswered question is: how to make it last? This is one criticism readers will have of Harbour’s story, yet in this economy how can we expect 90% of industry to grow unless they are somehow affiliated with infrastructure, health care or government? Even the best Lean company in the world is at the mercy of an economic downturn. As of this writing, Toyota reports February 2009 sales are down 37% and are requesting a loan from the Japanese government. The ultimate answer to, “how to build it to last?” of course lies with us, and Harbour surprisingly alludes to this plain fact in a kind and helpful manner, sans expletives.

How many Gold Rivets, Rosie? 5/5

Factory Man is a gift to Americans. If you are in manufacturing, you will find yourself nodding in agreement through many parts of this book - and will want to use its message to inspire the same passion for manufacturing in others. Anyone have any contacts in the Treasury Dep't? I have three copies ready to ship!

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