Our Unique System

Guest post by Marty Laurent. This is the third 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. You can read part 2 here.

When I was assigned to the Lordstown Plant, I had spent five years learning about and teaching the differences between Toyota and GM. I had never worked in manufacturing. I knew that the NUMMI (GM/Toyota joint venture) plant did not operate the same as Toyota in Nagoya, Japan. Going into the joint venture, Toyota had made a judgment about what elements of their system could be supported in a plant in Fremont, California.

It was clear to me that we could only change so much. Equally obvious was we could not be “like” someone else. Each system evolves. What was important was to establish a system that would be competitive in the moment and have the ability to improve in time.

For instance, the use of “teams” was an important element of the system at NUMMI. The United Auto Workers agreement with NUMMI had only one job classification, which enabled people to work cross-functionally. The Lordstown plant had no such agreement. Therefore, teams were not part of the system I envisioned.

After safety, I focused on organizing the physical space of the plant. The Japanese have a process which has been called the four “Ss” (in Japanese Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seketsu – clear, clean, organize, maintain). We followed that process.

The first step is the most difficult – clear an area of all things not required. Initially, everything that is there, and has always been there, is required. I chose to allow each area (group of workers) to make its own determinations. It might have been faster to tell them what was required, but I believed it was more important for them to come to the conclusion on their own. Trust was key. I deemed changing the culture was more important than first-time results.

We went through the 2,500,000 square foot plant and made one level of improvement. Then, we started again and made another level of improvement. Then another. The multiple attempts helped with culture change and taught the concept of improvement.

One of the impediments to the change I wanted to accomplish was the schedule. The GM scheduling system was extraordinary. It enabled running lot sizes of the various parts run, which would occupy more than the square footage of the plant if all were present, at full lot size at any one time. Since that condition never exists, the schedule could compute the amount of inventory and select a location for each new lot as it was produced.

I wanted people to have more control over the production process. I favored an exact footprint for every part, every time. We would replenish rather than schedule (a pull system).

At the time, I argued it was necessary for a successful manufacturing system. Now, I would say the pull system was integral to the overall system I established, giving people more control – which promoted culture change.

Another important part of the plant change process was how body panels (doors, hoods, etc.) were made in mechanical power presses and assembled by welding processes. The new car we would produce was designed differently, and the manufacturing processes by which the car would be assembled were different from GM’s prior processes.

The work we did in the plant was a part of a changed manufacturing process. The system is larger than manufacturing.

Finally, Dr. Deming spoke of minimizing the loss from “the two mistakes” as the role of management. (The two mistakes are attributing a loss to a common cause when, in fact, it occurred due to a special cause and the converse.)

In part, the quality system we employed focused on doing things the same way every time (standardization). If you can assure everything produced was done exactly as designed, then losses are attributable to common cause.

It is impossible to get 100% conformance. So, some of Dr. Deming’s mistakes occur. But my focus was to get every part being produced to the highest possible standard by changing the system.

To be continued…

Part 4 of Marty’s story will be published on February 8th.

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