Yesterday our friend Karen Wilhelm of the Lean Reflections blog wrote a post titled My Message to Barack Obama. She has decided that Obama deserves her support in 2008 and believes he should learn about the potential and opportunity of lean government. Good for her. Although I personally have several problems with Obama and believe he, like many candidates and even actual Presidents from both parties, would be overwhelmed by the simple magnitude of the job, I do applaud her desire to educate her chosen candidate.
With the exception of occasionally picking on NAM, I try to keep politics out of this blog. Unfortunately it's one of those topics that can inflame and divide instead of providing a basis for discussion and understanding. But Karen's desire to educate her candidate is something we should all try to do as whoever ends up getting elected will need all the help he or (wince!) she can get, and those of us in the lean world know that lean manufacturing methods can deliver more for less.
I grew up in a very politically-active family. Son of Peace Corps volunteers, lived overseas for almost a decade, a minister sister that has worked in a war zone in Mozambique and an AIDS hospice in Baltimore while performing "commitment ceremonies" on the side, and a dad who has a political blog so far left that he basically considers Dennis Kucinich just barely liberal. Meanwhile by the time I reached voting age my name might as well have been Alex P. Keaton. That's what my dad got for telling me to "think on your own." Dinner time could be pretty contentious. It wasn't pretty.
But that didn't last too long. I have too much of a heart and manufacturing gave me too much of a love, and respect, for people. I've been faily libertarian ever since, equally disgusted with a left wing party that believes more handouts are the solution to any problem and a right wing party that believes they have the right to tell me what to believe. Whatever happened to the Democratic party of Roosevelt and Truman that would ignore polls and go to war in the face of overwhelming public opposition instead of bowing to the altar of MoveOn.org? The party that believed free trade would help the masses of the world and supported free speech, instead of constraining speech to the lowest denominator to avoid offending the most thin-skinned of people? Whatever happened to a Republican party that would stand firm on principles of smaller government and individual rights instead of growing government and telling me what my morals and values must be to be a God-fearing American? It's a bizarre world.
Which is why I was somewhat surprised and intrigued when word started coming out a few days ago that Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, might attempt a third party run at the White House. Definitely a financial conservative, and as such he has created a $3.9 billion surplus for New York City's fiscal year 2007, $2 billion more than anticipated. Like a good conservative he is planning to use almost half to cut taxes. But at the same time crime has fallen, and New York has the 17th lowest crime rate of cities with more than 100,000 residents... and that's a lot of cities. And like a good social liberal he is going green big time by pledging to plant a million trees, and his public schools are achieving record high scores. With less money and less people. Less really can create more.
Third parties are always a long shot. Perot came closest, and it wasn't close. But Bloomberg, with a $20 billion personal fortune, can pretty much spend everyone else into oblivion. Or at least get the third party petitions filed in all states, which Perot couldn't do. With the current primary process basically ensuring the nomination of the most rabid left- and right- wing candidates, many are looking for a more centrist option. Winning is still a long-shot, even if he does decide to get in, but there are some interesting possibilities. If none of the three candidates gets a majority, and perhaps if the Democratic candidate comes in just barely third, would the Democratic House (which would decide) then pick a third-place candidate? It could be a thrilling election season for us political junkies.
So after six long paragraphs of bloveating, I'll follow Karen's lead. In fact, since Karen said it so well and my fingers are already getting tired, I hope she doesn't mind if I send it also to Michael Bloomberg.
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.
The bottom line is that whoever each of us ends up supporting (I am a long ways from making up my mind), and I'm glad we support different candidates as that debate and diversity is what makes this country great, it behooves us to help educate our candidate on how lean methods can help us improve. Help us do more with less.
Write your favorite candidate and tell them about the power and magic of lean. Then do it again and again until they get the message.