Successful Corporate Plumber reveals his formula that…
Saved a Closing Factory…Delivered a decade of financial improvement, and…set the stage for massive job growth.
Hi, I’m Alden Davis, known by colleagues and friends as the Corporate Plumber. No, I do not install toilets and tighten leaky pipes for businesses, but rather, I keep product flowing, unclog stuck thinking and fix the leaks of ineffective processes.
The formula I’m talking about also eliminated a $23M overrun manufacturing one of the most sophisticated missiles in the country. This formula allowed me to be the first management person to teach at the Machinist Union’s Training school in Placid Harbor. Let’s be honest, though; results like these are off limits for a lean apprentice. Just because you know how to use a hammer and a saw does not mean you are ready to build a house…but you can build a bird house. Access to bigger projects is earned over time as you master each element of the formula. And that is exactly what happened to me over the course of my career. I started with the smallest of the small projects, helping a manual drill operator develop a “T”-shaped tool to clean chips from the slots in the drill table so that fixtures could be changed faster. Now, this project did not transform the business, but it did make the life of the operator a bit easier and I earned credibility for willingness to help.
Had I mastered lean at this point? Lean wasn’t even in the vocabulary. JIT and the Toyota Production System, forerunners of Lean, had just come onto the manufacturing scene and I was right in the middle of it. A big turning point for me was when I had the good fortune of mentoring and working side by side with the great Dr. Paul Boulian, a noted leader in the world of Organizational Development, fluent in the teachings of Charlie Krone.
For many years we worked together on organizational change projects, ranging from strategic planning to labor relations to factory change. We traveled the world together leading simulations that helped people experience what it is like to work in a “high performance” work system. It was clearly a privilege to gain so much experience in this transformative technology.
This formula can be introduced to you in a one-page handout…a test if you will…to see if you are ready to become more than a lean apprentice. The question you face today is, “Is lean enough to create sustainable value for all stakeholders of the business?” This is the question I have wrestled with through the years. And after hundreds of kaizen events, each one predictably delivering double-digit improvements, I finally came to a conclusion. Let me add a bit more color to my history, first.
After 29 years in the corporate world I moved into private practice for a wider array of projects and industries. Here I came into contact with private equity companies and venture capital companies. The rules were different and I had to learn more and adapt the formula to these organizations. The challenge was that the goals were different. The balance sheet was less important than earnings. Quick bumps to EBITDA, not building a great company, is all that was desired; the goal was to flip the business. Egos and winning were more important than team and the best decision. Did this mean the formula was insufficient? It meant integrated change is not for everyone, although the principles driving the formula are relevant to everyone.
So, after all these experiences, what is my answer to the question, “Is lean enough to create sustainable value for all stakeholders of the business?” The answer can be understood from the perspective of one specific stakeholder…the worker. The union leadership had a great perspective on this issue, having lived through the implications of continuous improvement. I remember District Representative Ed for IAM Local 562 in San Jose, CA. He said, “You’re just going use everybody’s ideas to improve the process, then put it all on pallets and move it to cheaper labor over in the valley.” My experience since then would say Ed was right. Companies would optimize processes and then chase cheap labor. Hardly seems like a process that considers all stakeholders. Why would anyone want to participate in improving themselves out of a job? Does the formula include this? The answer is yes.
Understand one important element of the formula before clicking the button. This formula works because it is grounded in a group-based process. The driving belief is “the people who do the work are best able to improve the work.” Nothing is done in a unilateral fashion. You could say the first rule of the formula is “high involvement.”
Ready to start your journey? Test your knowledge by identifying the elements of the formula depicted. Two of the five should be easy for you as a lean person. Let’s see. Get started now.