Extraordinary Results

Guest post by Marty Laurent. This is the final of four blog posts sharing Marty’s story of transforming a GM plant – and influencing GM company-wide – using the Deming philosophy. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here. 

My focus was changing the system. Improvement through identifying common cause situations and improving the process. Every day, there are losses due to special causes. The plant organization includes an assistant plant manager – who, in my system, was in charge of special cause losses.

A favorite memory is one day, we were in the middle of some “big crisis.” I was asking those involved what the issue was. I was “teaching” them. The assistant manager came into the factory office and joined the conversation. He waited about 30 seconds and looked at the people I was questioning.

“The answer to his question is you have not organized your workplace. The answer to all his questions is to improve organization.” Then, he turned to me, took me by the shoulders, turned me around and led me to the door of the office (both of us laughing). “I don’t have time to fix the plant today – but I am going to get this issue fixed.”

It was my judgment that I could not force the systems change and run current operations, simultaneously. I don’t offer that as the right way to change. It was how I had to lead change, given my skill set.

This is an important element in knowing what to change. Had I been a life-long production leader, I would have been very familiar with the plant. Using existing processes and determining whether losses were due to special or common causes would have been a great way to proceed. I didn’t have that option. I would suggest, however, that throwing every effort into the new system is a great way to proceed – if the gap between today and where you must be in short order is very large.

There isn’t one right way to change. There isn’t one set of elements that comprise a perfect system. It depends on where you start and how much change is required.

The results at the plant were extraordinary:

  • Our lost workday incident rate dropped by half in just 5 years.
  • Defects reduced to 30 parts per million.
  • Productivity more than doubled, from less than 400 tons per day to more than 900 tons per day.
  • Inventory turns increased from less than 10 to more than 100.

The elements of the change were simple – but profound.

  • The system involved product engineering, process engineering, and the plant. It wasn’t “like” any other system anywhere; it was as much as could be changed given the conditions.
  • We focused on reducing variation of all processes through organization and increasing standardization. This allowed us to improve quality.
  • We operated through people. We used safety as a way to demonstrate the intent to change. We turned problems into opportunities to improve. Involving people in the process increased joy in work and made the systems changes possible.
  • We focused on education. We designed a week-long course for every employee, teaching them about the changes. The education was about prediction. People had to be convinced that if they bought into the change, it would benefit them.

Moving On

Dr. Deming had an enormous impact on me. I was lucky to work for an employer who allowed me to put what I learned into action. It still amazes me that in that short 15-minute – 6-hour presentation, Dr. Deming was able to show me enough of the System of Profound Knowledge that I could implement truly transformative change.

Bonus Dr. Deming memory!

Dr. Deming spoke of his time in Japan. He said he was giving directions to someone who did not know the language, either oral or written. He told them the train station to go to and to look for a clock, when the clock said 9:02 to get on the train which was there. They were to stay on the train until 10:17 and get off the train; he would be there to meet them. He looked at me and said no further information was required. I laughed and said you certainly could not do that here; the trains are never on time. He was stern, I don’t remember him being like that any other time. He said, “It is your obligation to make the trains run on time.”

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