John Crossan | Manufacturing Ownership Blog
Manufacturing Improvement and the Rolling Stones PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Crossan   

If you’re like me, you’ve listened to the music of the Rolling Stones over the years. Their contemporaries the Beatles became more artistic and lyrical as they evolved. (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that” as Jerry Seinfeld would say). But for driving party music, the Stones, even after all these years, are still hard for any band to beat.

But again like me, (with apologies) you perhaps have to admit to not really spending a lot of time trying to understand the words they sang.

I did hear the words to one of their songs quoted lately. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. This much I already knew. But what follows has a lot of meaning in the work we do.

“But if you try sometime you might find, you get what you need”

So many times in improvement work and problem solving work, we do all the analysis with the really smart, expert people, and come to what we truly believe is the right answer. One that we really want to work. Only to find when we implement it. “You know, it just didn’t work” or “It just didn’t last” or “Nobody would buy into it."

“You can’t always get what you want.”

We really tend to get hung up on what we want rather than what we need. We really want our elegant solution to work. We fall in love with it. For us engineers (God bless us, and please continue to keep the world safe from us) this is usually the technical solution. And having found that perfect solution, well, let’s not waste any time getting it in place. Forget all that soft skills stuff; just make people do it now.
(For some, unfortunately, Change Management is simply convincing people to do things that for various reasons, they don't seem to want to).

Others have talked of the frustrations and time consumed in hunting down and eliminating the wily, elusive, supposed single root cause (an intellectually satisfying, and truly righteous activity), as opposed to just implementing some of the many solutions to various, fairly obvious, contributing causes that just make things quickly better.

This isn’t saying that structured analysis isn’t necessary, but rather that it’s not the biggest part of fixing or improving.

Unfortunately too many of the “best” solutions, because they tend to address fundamental issues, become larger, which usually means expensive and time consuming. Also frustrating, as managers will usually push back at expensive (you know, that’s part of what they're supposed to do).

I remember a problem that was aggravating and constantly frustrating plant folks (as well as affecting productivity and quality) that could have been fixed for about $2000. A solution they themselves had worked out with some help. But there was another $80,000 much more extensive engineering project in the works that also would have taken care of that problem, among other things, so why spend the $2000? (Besides adding in the fix on the small issue would help justify the big project).

Unfortunately after a good number of months of management pushing back (not unreasonably) the $80,000 project was abandoned.

Sadly the $2000 project seemed to have been forgotten by then. And look at what was lost. Not just the months of productivity loss. But an opportunity to really build some ownership. It was their solution, they would have made it work. But instead of that, there was ongoing frustration at the needless waste, and at being ignored, and of course, management again paid the price of being tagged with “too cheap to do the right thing”.

The real trick in all of this is finding the way to “what we need”.

So what’s missing? What do we have to “try sometime?”

Well. How about listening to people? How about giving them the opportunities to make changes? How about helping them rather than telling them? Amazingly folks really know a lot about what the issues are, and how to deal with them, if asked and given the opportunity. (Rather than being pushed aside while the experts deal with it).

How about using a process that really uses communication to build ownership?

How to do this? It doesn't just happen, and we can't just do it now and again when we have some time. It takes a routine, everyday, structured process that will go on forever. Issues and improvements are identified, discussed; actions decided on (including communication) and followed up on.

We found the daily small unit shift exchange meetings the most powerful way to get this to happen. But it takes the involvement of supervision, maintenance personnel and even engineers to get to what we need.

Folks know what they need, but they usually need some help getting there, and are pretty receptive to genuine attempts to help them.

Engineers and managers are there to help people find their way to the right answers, and in doing that develop to their potential.
The approach is not to get them to do things that they probably don't want to, but just to help them get to what they need.

“But if you try sometime you might find, you get what you need”

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