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Look Outside Your World for Ideas

6/6/2014 4:00:00 PM
Article by Alan Severance

To really reinforce your own strengths and ideas, begin looking around your community for sources of new ideas and new approaches. Your world is full of resources, many of them existing long before Dr. Google became the encyclopedia of choice.

Local universities, community colleges, local and regional chapters of APICS, IIE, and other professional groups all provide low cost or zero cost opportunities to learn new techniques, get a different take on issues or concerns, or find a sympathetic ear while you talk out a problem. And—hold onto your chairs! Your state may have some serious resources that you can tap just for asking. They may not do as good a job at broadcasting their benefits as pay-for-advice firms, but they are always happy when taxpayers want to improve their businesses.

I had the opportunity to see real government support first hand when I was an assembly manager. I had sought to ensure shipment of mistake-free product to our customers, so I recruited some of the best wood workers and finishers in our company and set up benches and a small spray booth in a corner of our assembly building. I had the best repair and touch-up shop in the business! I was quite proud of myself for this initiative and for cutting our customer complaints dramatically. It never occurred to my pre-Lean self that I had added considerable expense to the process—all the additional people were “Indirect” by our then-current accounting practice! Their hours didn’t “count” against my production costs.

Then I discovered that our local university housed a branch of our state’s Industrial Resource Center. Just recently created and funded, they were looking for local manufacturers to team up with. I attended an informational seminar and quickly understood the value that was offered to our company. They would train our people from all levels of the company in problem solving from a total cost or total company standpoint, without sub-optimizing or shifting costs from one department to another.

I met with my counterparts in our wood shop, wood finishing, and warehousing departments to decide on which problem to attack and the best make-up of the first team. We ended up sending a thorough mix of departments and people, with a disproportionate share of hourly people. At weekly sessions over a two-month span, they learned problem-solving techniques while they were working on the critical issue of delivering defect-free wood products to Assembly. They created a very good solution and a plan to implement their ideas, which they presented to our senior management. This group approved immediate implementation.

The results? I was able to close down my little repair shop and remove the spray booth! Our product quality had never been higher!

We sent other teams, of course, and more importantly, sent volunteers to be trained in the techniques so that we could begin establishing our own problems solving groups, which morphed into our Continuous Improvement Teams as we began our journey through Just In Time manufacturing. Our culture became one that recognized everyone’s contribution to success, and that in turn drew in like-minded people as we began expanding our business. A major portion of our company’s DNA was forged from these successful collaborative efforts.

We reinforced the learning by sending people to courses at the local community college and by participating in plant tours and professional development meetings with our local APICS chapter. Use all the resources surrounding you for inexpensive ways to learn and train.

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