Russell Lindquist is spot on with the need for sustained leadership engagement ("The Secret to Sustainment," August 2011). Thanks for the actual data and straightforward logic that goes with it.
Expecting change without engaging to establish sustainment is like sending a Black Belt (BB) to perform a study and develop prioritized improvement opportunities while never planning to change a thing. That approach is disrespectful to the BB and does more harm for leaders’ reputations than they know. Setting expectations and following up is fundamental to establish long-lasting change.
East vs. West
"The Secret to Sustainment" describes pretty much what the Japanese do and have done for many years. They don’t have as much in the psychological arena to deal with, so this is a good starting pattern for a Western implementation.
My experience so far is that most organizations take the short-term view to save big money all at once. After 15 years, we are still having kaizen events—asking ourselves, "What’s wrong with this picture?"—when we should be moving on to continuous improvement.
By the way, kaizen in Japan is slow continual improvement, whereas in the United States it is more of a blitzkrieg. Actually, it’s all blitzkrieg, except at Fairbanks Morse Engine and, I’m sure, a few others (emphasis on the few).
I have seen $1 million spent improving a process, and nothing was accomplished except that throughput was reduced and product cost increased—both significantly. This was a while back, and following today’s lean Six Sigma processes might avoid a similar situation.
In general, I have seen no major process improvements that have amounted to anything; however, I have seen numerous small improvements that have had significant effects. For example, the Toyota Production System shies away from making major changes to existing processes but rather will wait and use the ideas in the next new development and take the time to hone and tune it to perfection.
Hales Corners, WI
This is a well-written and well-intentioned article ("Ford’s Focus," September 2011). There is somewhat of a disconnect, however, according to the 200 people laid off in western Ohio because Ford just moved much of its wheel supply to a Chinese company to gain a large cost reduction.
Which is really more made in America: the Ford that does this or the Honda Accord that focuses on American supply and is made of 98% such materials?