By Kevin Meyer
I really have no words. Well, you know that's impossible. But Austin Weber's article on Assembly Magazine's website that glorified the supposed lean accomplishments at Whirlpool nearly made me sick. I won't quote any of the article except suffice it to say it included lots of talk about tools. Not people.
The oft-forgotten second pillar of lean, respect for people. Forgotten by Whirlpool. Forgotten by Assembly Magazine.
We've followed the disaster at Whirlpool for several years. Back in August of 2006 we told you about their plans to lay off hundreds at their Evansville plant, while saying that "the company will continue to have committees explore lean manufacturing or efficiency practices." Sorry, that's not real lean.
As that post predicted, those committees didn't exactly do much good as in December of that same year we told you how they were adding a couple thousand people at their Clyde, Mason, and Amana facilities while losing a thousand at Fort Smith thanks to chasing lower labor costs to Ramos Arizpe in Mexico. Trading tens of thousands of years of experience for newbies and the associated huge training costs and quality curve... oh and a buck or two per hour in labor "cost." Sorry, that's not real lean.
A year or two later we updated the story, comparing Whirlpool to a company that does understand the value of brains - Rockwood. September of 2009 then brought the news that Whirlpool's Evansville factory was finally being closed for good - an expected but unnecessary death. In March of 2010 we were a little amused to learn that Whirlpool was now looking for trained lean folks... at a facility just a few miles from a facility they had closed... which had been filled with trained lean folks. Seriously. I can't make this stuff up. Sorry, that's not real lean.
Bryan Zeigler at the Lean is Good blog quoted Evolving Excellence in its own analysis of Whirlpool last year, but then added a comment that hits the nail on the head.
Yes, Mr. Colburn [Whirlpool VP] is giving the Evansville plant accolades but at the same time each employee has to deal with the slow agonizing pain of slowly seeing their factory move piece by piece.
Yep, as if that knucklehead version of lean stands even a tiny chance of being successful.
Real lean companies understand that success results from harnessing the creative ideas of experienced people that are treated with respect. They understand that the value of the brains far outweighs the cost of the pair of hands - and that the value of brains is real but not captured on traditional financial statements. Real lean companies understand that far more cost can be removed - and value created - through improvement ideas rather than chasing low cost labor. Especially when that silly chase results in shedding thousands of years of experience and paying large amounts to retrain and absorb initial quality issues.
Sorry Austin, Whirlpool is about as far from an example of real lean as you can get. Do your homework next time please. This is why lean gets a bum rap.