Friday, September 19, 2008

The Dreaded Stopwatch

In the middle of a value stream mapping kaizen event, the team was stopped dead in its tracks. Our first-time team leader approached me in a semi-panic state. She quickly informed me that the union rep told the kaizen team that they could not take time studies in their production area because we did not official notify the union ahead of time. He was standing firm by this contract rule.

“Mike, what should we do?” she asked with stress in her voice. “We really need these times to complete our value stream map. You told us we should not rely on computer times and go to gemba for our data.” she pointed out.

“Yes, that is the better way.” I answered.

For a typical value stream map kaizen event, we plan to complete the current state map, the future state map and the implementation plan to get to the future state in only 3 days. Throw in a half day of training and the report out, this leaves us with only 2 actual work days. There is no time to waste to meet our objectives.

“Let’s go back to gemba and talk with the union rep. Can you introduce me to him?” I asked.

Since I have only been with the company less than a year, I have not learned who all the 550 associates are in this plant although I have already conducted lean training sessions for the entire plant. I certainly did not know all the plant rules either so this was an additional learning moment.

As we walked together to the department, our team leader provided additional information, “Dave is the department union rep. He is a long time veteran of the plant and a stickler for details.”

As we walked up to Dave, the kaizen team leader introduced me to him. I reached out to shake his hand. “Hi Dave, it’s great to meet you. How are you this morning?

“Yes, I remember you from our training session. I’m doing fine,” he answered back.

I started by saying, “I hear that we did not follow the respect for people principle by not telling you ahead of time about timing some jobs in the department. I apologize for not letting you know. Can you teach me about this union rule?”

“You bet I will!” he stated with a slight air of boldness. He began by saying, “Our union contract clearly states that before anyone can take time studies to set job rates and change our job instructions, the union must be officially notified 24 hours in advance. Since you did not tell us, you can’t take the time studies, period!” At this point, Dave looked like he was not about to budge one inch. Rules are rules.

I went on to explain that we were not there to time study the jobs to set rates or change job methods. We just wanted to take some basic time observation for our value stream map. I took the time to provide a few details on the purpose for the value stream map. After about 15 minutes of open, honest discussion between the two of us, Dave agreed to let us take our time observation data. The event was back on track and went on with great success.

In reflection, the stopwatch has earned a dreaded reputation on our shop floor. Most people do not like to be timed and over the years, many people associate a stopwatch with someone getting let go or working harder. It is no wonder that stopwatches are not a welcome sight. A stopwatch is just a tool and its how we use it that matters most.

We also see opportunities to improve our communication with all our associates as we go to gemba to make improvements. This situation could be seen as just another example of union roadblocks or management steamrolling, but we should simply look at this example as a moment to engage our entire team, to better align our team focus and to practice respect for people. Take the time that these moments present to us each day to live the principle of respect for people. Each time we do, our team becomes stronger.

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