Organizational Features of a Lean Plant

I’m reading The Machine That Changed the World : The Story of Lean Production by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, and Daniel Roos. It is an extremely interesting book.

I ran into this small paragraph yesterday that for some reason stuck in my head as something important:

The truly lean plant has two key organizational features: It transfers the maximum number of tasks and responsibilities to those workers actually adding value to the car on the line, and it has in place a system for detecting defects that quickly traces every problem, once discovered, to its ultimate cause.

I’m telling you, the Poppendeick books are great, but there is nothing like going right to the source for an explanation of lean. I’m about 100 pages into the current book and I am absolutely fascinated at how much of todays current corporate structure (multi-level, many people with very specific task sets or responsibilities) is based on things that Ford and Sloan did with their companies.

In IT, this management style is manifested through all the different groups one hears about all the time from people in the field: Development, Infrastructure, Business Analysts, Quality Assurance. Each its own little silo, with its own responsibilities – and never should one group know how to do, or be privy to, the information in one of the other groups. Handoffs occur between the groups via very large documents.

Sometimes it goes further than that. I was talking to a friend once (who worked at another company, BTW) who told me about how their DBA’s were responsible for uptime and performance of the database and had decided that developers were not allowed to use ORDER BY clauses in their SQL because it effected the performance of the database. These developers were actually forced to sort their results within the application, rather than use the capabilities of the database, adding additional complexity to an already complex application. Worse, management seemed to buy into the decision, as I don’t think I would have been hearing about the situation if it was overruled. Ridiculous.

Another quote from the book, same page:

In old fashioned mass production plants, managers jealously guard information about conditions in the plant, thinking this knowledge is the key to their power.

Again, shocking how much of this mentality you read about in corporations not even connected to automobiles. This sounds like just about every company I’ve talked to people about (or worked at) over the years.

I’ve come to the decision over the years that ultimate transparency is the key to breaking down silos. It only breaks down your silo, but hey – thats a start, and at least you are setting an example.

Its definitely very beneficial, I’m finding, to read about things that are completely outside your profession to give you some distance from what is being taught. The lessons flow in easily this way, because you don’t have the predisposition that you “already know how things work”.

I recommend to anyone in IT to pick this book up. Its absolutely fascinating.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s