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!

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Your involvement is essential to ongoing evolution of the leadership community.

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home