Change 3: Victory on the Gallon Line

Picture of crazy eyed glasses inviting you to change your glasses to see things differently

Victory on the Gallon Line—and Beyond

Needing a victory, the team members mapped a rudimentary flow chart of the gallon line and discussed results with the line supervisor. The subject of speeding up the line, which the managers favored, was brought up. One might ask, Why not speed up to increase output? But the team’s observation of the work floor led to another conclusion. One of the managers on the team noticed an employee working frantically. In a radical break with company tradition, instead of barking an order, she asked what the employee was doing. She explained that to keep up with the filling machine, she had to work frantically to catch the spillovers and get them back into the jar.

Fully engaged, the managers noticed that there were sliced pickles everywhere: in the machine, on the machine, and around it. Management’s proposed solution—to speed up—would only have made matters worse. The consultant asked the team of managers to think about takt time—that is, optimizing the overall speed of the system as opposed to just its parts. The discussion led to the idea of slowing down the conveyor and filling machine so the employees could keep up.

In keeping with the PDSA cycle, (the Deming Cycle) a process behavior was prepared. It showed that the system was in control but way out of specification. (In other words, it was perfectly designed to accomplish what they didn’t want.) Since it was predictable (see my course see your way to profit, to learn why and how to predict by doing process behavior charts) Predictable,(otherwise, how could you know it was an improvement if results weren’t predictable?) it could be improved, so a test of matching the speed to the worker was done. With the slower pace, not only were willing workers able to fill the jars more accurately, but far less product was wasted as well, eliminating the need to stop every few hours to un-jam pickle or pepper clogged equipment. Counter-intuitively, by moderating the takt time, the rate of output increased, along with the accuracy of measure.

By eliminating more than one pound of overfill per jar, the company rescued $130,000 per year in hidden losses and freed up 240 staff-hours per week for other work. Control charts were done to test whether the solution was stable. The result: the company now gets 12.2 cases from each 100 kilograms of product processed, versus only 10.57 cases before.

The results were so dramatic that transformation subsequently flowed. Workers at all levels came to understand the fundamental principle that someone from every function touched by a process needs to have a voice in discussions to improve that process. Barriers were gone. The owner realized the value of investing in the process of improvement after that, and the employees clearly saw that improving operations would not cost them their jobs but would make their jobs more rewarding and provide new opportunities. Workers at all levels came to understand the fundamental principle that someone from every function touched by a process needs to have a voice in discussions to improve that process.

The SimplyLookingTM technique was of great help in examining the office and forklift use as well. By justifying the need for a second scanner, it helped eliminate four hours per week of waiting time for each office worker who needed to use the office scanner. Also, four boxes of equipment that had not been used in over a year were removed, and the office was redesigned. The walls of the manager’s office and the cubicles were removed to create an open office in which the manager faces the desks of the office workers, breaking down physical and mental barriers between them. By observing how the forklifts were used and created a traffic flow chart and timeline, employees were able to optimize the use of the equipment and eliminate $10,000 a year in maintenance costs and to create a better flow of product—all in the first day of practical application.

The single most important event in changing the company culture occurred on the next day, while the team members were looking for the eight wastes. The owner had devised a system of loading pickles and peppers in their brine in fiberglass tanks about 20 feet long and 8 feet wide, which were transferred to a flatbed and then pulled by tractor across the length of the brine yard to the side of the processing building. The employees would then put on waders, climb into the tanks, and fill the conveyor that led to the slicing machine. On the day of the observation, the temperature was close to 98 degrees.

The consultant encouraged the owner to put on waders and jump into one of the tanks to experience first-hand the work that the employees did. Standing in brine; breathing in acid and salt in wet, hot waders; and scorching in the sun, the owner got the full impact of what he had been asking his workers to do every day. The tanks were mothballed and replaced with smaller steel bins that were designed to be lifted and poured by machine.

Two years later, when the plant’s operations manager was asked what the moment when he realized the owner was serious about change was, he recalled the day the owner went into the tanks to net peppers to find a more effective way to operate.

That day was a revelation for the willing workers, as well. For the first time, an owner did their work, acknowledged a mistake, apologized openly for what he had put them through, and ditched the system for a better one, clearly demonstrating through action his resolve to remove obstacles that kept them from taking pride in their workmanship. It is no surprise that even in his absence, the work of improving goes on, and huge steps have been made in finding and eliminating waste from all areas of the facility.
Two years later, when the plant’s operations manager was asked what the moment when he realized the owner was serious about change was, he recalled the day the owner went into the tanks to net peppers in an effort to find a more effective way to operate.

For example, using the 5S process, workers organized work areas so that it would be obvious to anyone visiting the area the kind of work that is done there. Its purpose clarified, it is now a place where problems are uncovered rather than hidden, where pride of workmanship can flourish. For example, the issue of holding an excess of peppers in process inventory was cured with a simple kanban, the use of visual cues to initiate a process. Now when the operator sees he is down to only a few minutes’ worth of supply, he raises either a red or a green milk carton attached to a pipe on the ceiling of the loading dock by a rope, in plain view of the brine yard. When the brine-yard workers see the signal, they load up on either red or green peppers and deliver them. This simple solution saves thousands of dollars in wear and tear on the forklifts, which were not designed to run outside on gravel and used to circulate all day long, dropping the product. It also leveraged underutilized human abilities, as it was the workers themselves who proposed the change after discussing the situation. There is also far less loss of product in transit and far less degradation of the product resulting from being held in less than optimal conditions while waiting to be processed. Each technique has led the workers and managers to think of new ones, creating a sense of control over their lives, enriching their work, building pride, improving production and its quality, and considerably enhancing the bottom line, a real victory!

To be continued…>

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About the Author

Dan Strongin works with medium to small companies, helping them master the art and science of managing.

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