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Jim Huntzinger

Jim Huntzinger: Respect for People is Getting Your Hands Dirty

By Jim Huntzinger, - Last updated: Thursday, November 4, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

There are multiple ways and methods to define respect for people.  Instead of specially defining it, I will give an example which illustrates one aspect of respect for people based on my experience.

Note:  At the time of my story, I was not thinking about respect for people in the context of TPS, although I knew about it.  I was only thinking about my activity in the context of TPS as; I needed to get tasks done in order to get the lines running and flow functioning.  Only in reflection, many years later, did I grasp the function of respect for people as a result of what I was doing at that time.

In order to implement flow I was taking traditional batch machining departments – that is; a department arranged in process (machine) groups with large batches pushed through the machine groups – and rearranging them into one-piece flow machining cells.  And moving the cells to the other side of a million-plus square foot plant.  In order to do this, I had to learn each process of a twenty-plus step process (machining processes) of an engine component.  This meant days and weeks of observation, timing each operation over and over again, and asking seemingly endless questions of the operators, set-up men and foremen.  All of which I did over the course of months.  And continually explaining what I was doing and why I was doing it.  Again, none of this – from my perspective at the time – had anything to do with the respect for people side of TPS or lean.  It was getting the task done of moving from the batch department to the flow cell.

I was also integrating new technology into the process – CNC machine tools.  I was doing significant process testing on a test CNC lathe to prove out the process changes I was going to make – proving sequence changes, machine capability, and quality performance.  And, continually showing and discussing my ideas and progress with the operators, set-up men and foremen, who were often skeptical of my ideas and changes.  And, BTW, all of the existing machine tools used to machine this family of components ranged in age from the early 1970s to the early 1940s – it was old equipment so say the least.

I also continually showed them my cell layouts, which continually evolved, and discussed my reasons always showing data of: process times, operator times (which I had developed watching and timing them), machine capacity, machine capability, standard work, and many other pieces of information.  Always listening carefully to their concerns and ideas – often because I knew they had valid holes they punched in my ideas and these needed addressed to make the new cells work mechanically (machines and processes) and functionally (standard work and people capabilities).

When the time finally arrived to put the new flow cell into place and begin operations with them, naturally a may lay of problems occurred – from the mechanics of the machine tools to training of operators and everything in-between.  It was not unexpected, although very frustrating at times.

So my life was no longer in the old department, but living and crawling all over the new cells.  And working with the operators, set-up men and foremen (now called Team Leaders!) on getting it debugged and running according to the standard work and takt time.  Me, supposedly being the “lean” guy, but especially because I was the engineer who developed and put the plan together, was the point man for getting the line to function and operate according to our – in Mike Rother terms – target condition.  This manifested itself into me be called upon to do nearly everything on the line (although always working with operators, set-up men, Team Leaders, and maintenance) – from running parts, programming machines, adjusting tools and fixtures, trouble-shooting down machines, training operators & set-up men, turning wrenches when repairing things, to coming-in in the middle of the night when 3rd shift had issues.

The key point to this story I am sharing is this – this company was a union shop which had very bad relations between the union and its management.  Everything I mentioned in the previous paragraph that I was doing was absolutely a violation of union rules.  I could have nearly been “written-up” every day for months by the actions I was taking to support the line.  But I was not ever written-up – it was never even brought up.  In fact, I never even thought about it.

The folks I was working with during this time – the operators, set-up mean and supervisors – were focused, like I was, on the task at hand.  And we all had developed mutual respect (This is the respect for people lesson here!) for each other, even though we would frequently question each other.  None of us (and me in particular) did this for any lean or TPS reason (or maybe because we did unknowingly, and that is the key to respect for people), we simply shared and communicated openly and constantly through the entire process.

In reflection, I clearly see now the amazing and beneficial “respect for people” that comes from it.  And, I learned so much from working with these folks that it soundly resonates with me and my view on this to this very day.  For me, this was respect for people in action.

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