15 Minutes That Lasted 6 Hours

Guest post by Marty Laurent.

In 1987, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Deming. I was a member of a team assigned to change an assembly plant from traditional General Motors (GM) processes to processes learned from the GM/Toyota joint-venture called NUMMI. I was tasked with providing him a 15-minute overview of our work implementing change. Four of the change-team members had worked at the joint venture, and I had studied Toyota methods while a member of GM strategic planning. The changes we proposed were from all that learning.

He stopped me after a few minutes to ask, “Why did you do it that way?” I didn’t really have an answer. Then, a few minutes later, “Why is that important?”

Embarrassed that I didn’t have answers for him, I stumbled through my responses, hoping I could finish my presentation and get out with my dignity intact. He questioned things I thought to be obvious. For instance, I spoke of eliminating numeric goals – he wanted to know why that was important. He didn’t let me answer, he said, “This meeting started at 9:00 am, everybody was here – is that a numeric goal?” I answered my sense was no. He wanted to know why. I said, because we could get here by 9:00. I understood his challenges were not of what we were doing but my understanding of why we were doing it. He asked more questions, and more questions until I started to think more deeply about the changes. The answers were still difficult, but he worked with me until I understood the whys.

My 15-minute presentation lasted 6 hours. By the end, I had learned more from Dr. Deming than I had in all my years in college.

My Name is Marty Laurent

I’m retired now after 32 years in the automotive manufacturing industry. I want to share part of my story as an illustration of how others might learn and use the System of Profound Knowledge (SoPK).

In 1985, I was assigned to GM strategic planning – studying Toyota and the Toyota Production System. GM was employing a variety of strategies to learn how to improve – Saturn, NUMMI, Deming seminars, and others. NUMMI was a joint venture that used Toyota methods to build Toyota and Chevrolet vehicles in Fremont, CA. I was part of a multi-discipline GM team that studied the joint venture and how it differed from a GM plant of the time. I attended a Deming 4-Day Seminar in 1986, so I knew about SoPK.

In 1987, the first group of GM employees who worked at NUMMI returned to GM. I joined four of them and we were assigned as advisors to the plant staff – charged with transforming an assembly plant. I spent more than a year with that team and then returned to corporate planning. From there, I was assigned as director of the technical liaison office (TLO) and charged with teaching all of GM about the differences between GM and NUUMI.

While at the TLO, we had roughly 10,000 GM people, from the company president to manufacturing plant employees, to process and project engineers, plus all plant managers and manufacturing managers, visit the plant and learn what they could do to adapt their jobs to methods learned from the joint venture.

Recently, I was listening to Dr. Deming on video and audio recordings. In one of them, he says, “They want to change, but they don’t know what to change.” That is why I wanted to do this blog. It doesn’t matter when the change process takes place; what needs to change comes from understanding SoPK.

This is the first of four blog posts sharing Marty’s story of transforming a GM plant – and influencing GM company-wide – using the Deming philosophy. Each additional post will be published weekly.

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