I've been thinking about our future as a country (not that I'm excluding the rest of the world), and like Barack Obama. But I don't think he has any inkling that lean exists. Today I finally put my thoughts into words and submitted the following comments via his website. Maybe nothing will happen, but you gotta try.
"Having read your books, I feel confident in your character and your message of hope. I did note, however, a certain naivete about business. In manufacturing, in particular, there is a singular message of hope that all the candidates are missing. There’s an opportunity to take advantage of it, rather than bemoaning the loss of jobs to low-wage countries or fear of the Halliburtons and Enrons of the world.
"This message is the growing application of what is called “lean” to manufacturing production, as well as services, healthcare and government. Lean is not mean, and, contrary to what most journalists write, is not about getting rid of people. It is about getting rid of the waste of materials, time, and human creativity. It comes down to freeing the ability of people at all levels to think of better ways to do things, supported by training and resources. The philosophy is exemplified by Toyota, whose leaders based it on the writings of Henry Ford, among other Americans. In fact, the manner of training Toyota employees all over the world is a method called “Training within Industry,” developed in America during World War II to rapidly train inexperienced workers to do complex jobs effectively.
"Using the lean philosophy is not confined to Toyota by any means. Boeing, ITT, and Raytheon have been very successful. Why did Bill Ford hire Alan Mullally from Boeing? Because of his success in applying lean. (Boeing is not soaring on the basis of defense orders – it is Boeing Commercial Airplanes raking in orders for the new 787.)
"The reason the American auto companies are struggling is not overpaid factory workers. American plants in the auto industry are among the best in the world. One GM plant, NUMMI, in California, is a 20-some year old joint venture between GM and Toyota that has employed the same union workforce that GM had thought was its most troublesome and turned it into a world-class factory. That GM management ranks have been unable to assimilate the philosophy they’ve had long access to is nothing short of tragedy.
"Perhaps the most remarkable story is in small- to medium-sized business in across the range of manufacturing industries. Using the philosophy of lean and statistical quality management, they have competed effectively against offshore competitors. They have grown, and often have in-sourced work that had previously been done outside. This is the most moving story of hope.
"Even the military has embraced what they are calling “Lean Six Sigma,” with varying degrees of understanding and results. Operations like Warner-Robins Air Force Depot have stood at the top of the class.
"I know you are a student and gifted at reaching out and learning from others, so I will give you a few sources. Not far from Washington is the Northrop Grumman Newport News shipbuilding facility. They have formed ties with community colleges, NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership sites, other local businesses and agencies, to transform what is happening there in Virginia. They would certainly welcome a visit and an interest in their lean transformation.
"Iowa being a key state politically, it is interesting that Governor Vilsack helped support lean implementation all over the state and within the government itself. It’s not clear what the present governor will do with that, but the state is full of good stories.
"Fort Wayne Indiana is a stone’s throw from Chicago, and the home of Mayor Graham Richard, a former manufacturer who had made the city function amazingly well. In fact, all of Indiana has become a region of hope, with Rolls Royce aircraft engines, Toyota, and other major corporations moving in to take advantage of a highly-skilled workforce.
"In Chicago itself is the headquarters of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, which has fostered many individuals and companies to achieve great progress in retaining and growing our manufacturing businesses in the US. Ralph Keller is the head of the organization, and could point you to hundreds of people who have created hope in the communities where they live and work. The AME national conference is in Chicago at the end of October. It draws over 1,000 people from all over the world to share their knowledge – consultants are rarely allowed to be speakers, so you hear from the real people implementing lean principles. Even if you can’t go to hear for yourself, I highly recommend sending some aides.
"My point is that you can learn what business can do for Americans, and that all of these companies – especially the smaller ones – can afford you opportunities to present your ideas in key states as you conduct your campaign.
"Of course I, along with better people who I could point to, stand ready to share what we have learned with you or your aides. There’s a huge list of readings I could recommend, but will spare you from in this message.
"I believe you can do much for this country, and even more if you investigate how business can be conducted to create an even stronger message of hope for Americans."