Early Vermont Industrialists and Lean Thoughts

Mark Warren at Tesla2.com and I have been chatting about early Henry Ford works. Mark brought up the name Walter Flanders and this got me to do some more digging. Apparently W. Flanders was one of the heavy hitters behind Ford's machine innovation and plant layouts. Walter Flanders was from Vermont, which peaked my interest even more, since Republican Vermont Senator Ralph Flanders was mentioned in Alan Mogensen's autobiography. Senator Flanders was credited in Mogy's book for killing the legislation that would have banned time and motion study. Can you imagine? Thank you Senator Flanders, for us Leansters would likely not exist today!

Anyway, I haven't made a connection between Walter Flanders and the Senator yet, although I'm pretty sure they are related. Can anybody out there confirm this? Ralph and his brother, Ernest were both known for their pioneering work in setting screw thread standards and creating many innovation in the screw machine industry as they worked for Jones and Lamson in Springfield, VT.

Through my internet research the past couple of nights, I stumbled across a book written by Governor James Hartness, father-in-law to Senator Ralph Flanders and father of Helen Hartness Flanders.

Here is the link to the book, Industrial Progress and Human Economics. It is digitized through the Gutenberg project. You may find it a bit dated. But there are little gems in here that are still relevant today. Given the many references in this book to the concept of specialization and the facts behind how Hartness turned around the ailing Jones and Lamson company through the application of specialization of the flat turret lathe, it is not a stretch to imagine that Hartness was a fan of scientific mangement. However, reading through this book, you get the impression that he saw beyond the narrow focus of scientific management that we know of today - the specialization of tasks and rigid work defined by time and motion study. Hartness clearly was advocating such concepts, but also tried to stretch Vermont industrialists imagination and creativity of what Vermont industry should look like by embracing human economic principles. Some examples that may sound familiar to Leansters:
"There should be no absentee management. The men who manage must be in close touch with the work and the workers—not merely through written or oral reports, but by actual observation."
Sounds like genba management to me!

In order to "Protect the Industrial Spirit," Hartness declared:
"Industries and the workers should be protected from incompetent managers, investigators and impractical theorists.

Industries and the workers go forward by actual work, not on manipulation of stocks, bonds, laws and schemes to wreck or boost for temporary gain of some one interest."

Hartness challenged Vermonters to some simple questions which, in my opinion, require a genba commitment to answer:

"How the individual ability and skill, as well as the group ability and skill is only to be acquired by repetition that establishes habit-action."

"Why repetition of operation is essential to acquisition of skill and special ability."

"Why a plant may be growing in size and paying dividends and may still be dead so far as the spirit of enterprise is concerned."
My favorite part of this book though, is in the "Habit Action, Basis of Skill and Proficiency," section:
"We have many text books on the subject of industrial finance, of engineering, of invention, of industrial management, and all these books are written on the assumption that the human being knows his own kind. A study of our failures seems to reveal, however, that we have misunderstood the human being.

Our fundamental error in understanding our own kind seems to lie in the fact that we fail to recognize that man is a creature of habit to an extent not quite equal to that of the lower animals, but nevertheless to a degree that positively stands in the way of any man who tries to create or manage an industry without giving due value to this one element.

The effect of this characteristic of habit action is so profound that any disturbance in a plant due to changing the position of benches or machinery or changing the character of the work sorely interferes with man's efficiency.

If it is as simple as this, why the need of saying it? The need is brought about by the painful fact that one of the characteristics of habit action is to continue on without change even after the mind has apparently recognized that a change should be made."

"Success comes not from the mere word knowledge of these things, but through action."

This final message from Hartness reminds me of what a plant manager from the Asia Pacific region of our world said to me very recently: "A decision does not make a solution." In other words, just because we say we are doing Lean, doesn't mean we are Lean."

Doesn't this hint at the dichotomy of Lean thinking? How do we challenge the current thinking, practices and theories yet stick to the fundamentals of good management: Respect for People and Continuous Improvement?

Have a great Thanksgiving holiday!

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