A Lean Journey: One Leader’s Story, Part 2

A Lean Journey: One Leader’s Story, Part 2

In Part 1 of this blog Wiff Dedrick shared the story of how he helped grow a toner cartridge remanufacturing company from $3M to $16M in annual sales over a ~five-year period. But the company had issues with profitability and excess inventory.

Click here to read Part 1 of the blog.

In Part 2 Wiff shares how his company used Lean Best Practices to dramatically improve their results and develop leaders in the process.

It was about 1998 that I met Drew Casani, the Executive Director of TMAC at that time. We met while serving as TAPE examiners (Texas Award for Performance Excellence). I shared with Drew our plans for a new facility where we hoped to quadruple production to meet customer demand. I asked if TMAC could help. Drew obliged by sending Mark Sessumes and Russ Aikman to meet with us.  

Mark was more than happy to design a facility for us. But he suggested that we should go through some training first. He provided a proposal which included all the training of our staff as well as the facility layout, equipment evaluation, workstations, and flow mapping.

The first thing TMAC did was to provide a Lean 101 training to management and leaders. It was extremely eye-opening as we learned about the eight wastes, single piece flow, pull systems, visual production signals, point-of-use storage, and more. I couldn’t believe how the Mr. Consultant-designed system, of which we were so proud, not only allowed these wastes but actually encouraged them, especially overproduction (which I learned was the worst waste of all).

While I was enthusiastic about my new way of seeing production with my new “glasses” as Mark called it, I had no idea how we managers were going to implement this in our new facility. It was such a radical change from what we had been ingrained to do. I was skeptical that we could make this work.

Mark confidently exclaimed “no worries”, we’ll train the folks on the production floor. The teams can then implement it with the tools they learn. Although the teams had several years of continuous improvement and problem-solving under our belts, and they were accustomed to regular improvement meetings, I thought this was a truly revolutionary change. Surely it would take a miracle to implement. 

Our production teams were already divided into product families, so Mark started meeting with the teams. He suggested I introduce him and Russ as trainers and show my support, but then to leave. This would allow the teams to be trained without me there. He explained they would be more expressive and contribute more without any managers present. I obliged, feeling I might be missing out on some of the fun.

After meeting with the teams, Mark provided follow-up sessions where TMAC facilitated our staff in applying the exact same principles learned in the Lean 101 workshop. We provided time off the production floor so they could fully engage in the improvement process. He had them redesign the layout to work cells. This step involved arranging the activities in sequence of breaking down and reassembling cartridges. It also required them to assess the filling equipment, dust collection, packaging requirements, and tools needed. I was not privy to all these inside efforts, but Mark assured me the teams were doing great and we were on track to make some positive changes. 

A few days later he asked if we could make some slight modifications to the existing layout in the plant – right now, and asked if we happened to have any small workstation tables to use? I said, “Sure, let’s try it.  It will be good to see what we want to set up in the new facility”.  

Mark responded, “Great – but stay out of production for a while. Let the teams do the work. When teams and individuals own the process, it always optimizes implementation.”

Believe me, it was very difficult to stick to my office and not go poking around production and giving suggestions as was my custom. 

A day later one of my team leaders asked me to come out and observe what they had done. I walked out to production and saw his team had rearranged workstations in a cellular format. Only four people were working in the U-shaped cell. They had standard work processes and in-process inspection checks, basic visual kanban signals to prevent overproduction, a test printer to check functionality, and packaging supplies at the end. A whiteboard was set up to monitor progress and record any problems.  I watched as one cartridge was disassembled, processed, rebuilt, tested, and packaged in less than eight minutes start to finish. It was glorious!  

And here are the measurable results from Before Lean to After Lean:

MeasuresBefore LeanAfter   Lean
Process Lead Time (Minutes)24015
Cycle Efficiency5%33%
Units per Labor Hour2.253.64
WIP (Cartridges)27118
Material Travel (Feet)36740
Total Weekly Finished Units540874
Working Capital Tied Up$14,211$944
Sales per Square foot$1,565$2,217
Returns 3-5%<1.5%

Other product teams soon copied this model, and with virtually zero out of pocket expenses we were operating at full tilt. Our lead supervisor soon confirmed my suspicions: “We don’t have to move. We can replicate these cells and easily produce quadruple the cartridges in our existing facility”.

In summary I came to the following conclusions:

1. You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know: 

Our improvement was spurred by experts we relied upon for advice. While Mr. Consultant didn’t exactly work out, I found that TMAC is an expert in delivering training and implementation support to achieve highly efficient Lean production systems. My only advice is to broaden your search and carefully research the credentials and testimonials of prior clients. In our case we bought Mr. Consultant hook line and sinker – and didn’t know there was another way until TMAC came along.

 2. Lean is Not just a Cool System, it Develops People:

Many of the players in that early system have gone on to become leaders – supervisors, managers, directors, VPs, a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a C-level executive. Mike Boyte and I eventually (and enthusiastically) joined TMAC. Putting on “the glasses” and becoming an expert in Lean certainly contributed to the value and career advancement for many.

3. Timeframe for Performance Excellence vs. Lean:

We spent over three years on our Performance Excellence journey establishing a clear leadership system, deploying goals and objectives, implementing a team-based organizational structure, teaching problem-solving, displaying performance measures, achieving ISO 9001 certification, and imprinting an overall culture of excellence. This provided us with substantial improvements in our company. 

However, our gains skyrocketed in a period of only weeks when we learned, applied, and refined Lean Best Practices. I don’t really know what would have happened if we had started with Lean. I do believe our previous efforts helped lay the foundation for implementing Lean because we had a culture that embraced excellence and continuous improvement – driven by the front-line teams. 

In retrospect, I believe any organization should prioritize implementing Lean. I know first-hand that Lean Best Practices substantially reduces chaos, enhances communication, and directs problem-solving and continuous improvement efforts in a sustainable and positive way. In addition, a transformation to a Lean philosophy and system virtually guarantees immediate and positive results to the bottom line.

To be sure, Lean transformed TCS and changed my life. Feel free to contact me if you are considering a Lean implementation and have any questions. I am more than happy to help others by passing it along.