Apr 4, 2006

The military tackles lean

Here I am, at the Shingo Prize Conference in Covington, KY – just across the river from Cincinnati. The Tuesday evening social hour is over and tomorrow the main conference starts.

Seems like I met more people from military MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul?) facilities than I would have expected. They all want to find the Warner-Robins people because of W-R’s experience in lean (see USAF Embraces Lean Techniques as Lean Directions reported in 2002.) They won a Shingo Prize too. I think I may have a frequent blog visitor from Warner-Robins – could you add a comment on what you’re doing down there?

The Navy has issued notification that lean is going to happen – now. And I’m told that the Marine Corps at Beaufort SC is pumped up and ready to improve stuff.

In the Army, Anniston Depot has sent a delegation of three to the conference. Talking to Tim Spivey and his colleagues, I learned that they use machining and milling centers, laser and waterjet cutting, EDM, some die making, some stamping, assembly and painting. They do some textile production. And disassembly and reclamation. Even with the incredible variety of work needed on the damaged vehicles and weapons that come to them, they have identified value streams and are aligning them.

Tim told me that they invited a couple of the toolmakers to come out from their little world to participate in a lean event. It emerged that some kind of fixture was needed to hold something – the people who worked in the operation being improved could see the function they needed, but the toolmaker saw how something like that could be made. It was already in his mind before they started to talk. Not only was a problem solved, but the toolmaker was excited to have been able to invent something, not just spend his hours on chipmaking. Needless to say, people from the machine shop are going to find themselves in kaizen events in other places around the facility.

One thing the military is good at, according to two people I spoke with, is standard work. There are manuals for most things, including how to bring people up from one rank to another and give them what they need to know to make the step. Sam McPherson, now working at a manufacturing extension group at NC State, says this same approach could be used to foster lean leadership development. He’s promised me an article for Lean Directions.

Tomorrow features Dan Ariens on his company’s culture of continuous improvement, and Paul O’Neill on healthcare costs. I hope to sit in on Pascal Dennis’s session on Hoshin Kanri (policy deployment) and really hope to persuade him to write something for the newsletter. Get Dennis’s books – short, easy to read, and packed with good stuff. He is ex-Toyota, from Cambridge Ontario, if I’m not mistaken. A great lineup of people I don’t know will be speaking – and they are often the best, because they are likely to be the practitioners.


Piquero said...


You might want to check in with the Human Side of LEAN and/or David Harmond(?) [can't remember]. He is also working on Mil Procurement. A definite opportunity for lean.
Also, if you can steer the tool & die folks toward Gary Gathen's discussion of LEAN Tool & Die; they might be interested.

Unknown said...

Thanks Bob,

I'll try to keep those tips in mind as I follow up on my contacts.

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