Thoughts on Lean Manufacturing from our Process Technician, Jeff Linton

Jeff talks about Bob Chapman’s book Everybody Matters, which describes a method for giving people autonomy over their work processes and the deep trust between workers and management that is made possible through lean.

About a year and a half ago, Alex told me about Bob Chapman’s book, Everybody Matters, I read it and I got excited. It talked about lean as a method for giving people autonomy over their work processes and the deep trust between workers and management that was made possible through lean. The company’s most important performance indicator for itself was the way its employees treated their partners and spouses when they went home after a day’s work. The idea that a corporation could hope to influence that kind of thing at all was wild to me, but I was into it.

I wanted that for East Fork. The main useful take away from that book was the importance of celebrating people and the destructive power of criticizing them. So that’s what I tried to implement on my own team (RAM at time). I knew how I wanted our team to function, but I didn’t know how to get there.

East Fork RAM press in action.

In January of 2020, I started as the Process Technician at East Fork and was explicitly tasked with implementing lean principles at the factory. I started educating myself about the basics of lean thinking. I found I had been thinking about lean upside down. I was like a medieval cathedral builder building a cathedral windows-first. I was saying, “This big beautiful stained glass rose window is going here, fifty feet above the ground. There’s gonna be colored light streaming through pictures of sheep. I can’t wait.” That was the Everybody Matters shit that I loved; the stuff about how people can be so trusted and empowered by their bosses that they go home after work and reconnect with their estranged dads or whatever. That’s the stained glass window that goes in after years of work. This is definitely why we built the cathedral, but probably also and first, we should lay some bricks.

That’s the stained glass window that goes in after years of work. This is definitely why we built the cathedral, but probably also and first, we should lay some bricks.

I had read The Toyota Way years ago, but it felt big and complex and I didn't get it. This is when I found Paul Akers and his book, 2 Second Lean. He focuses on the How and emphasizes the extreme simplicity of lean. For Paul Akers, there are only two things you need to do if you want to do lean. Learn to see waste and fix what bugs you. This was the bricklaying stuff I was missing. I started to teach it to the team as I was learning it myself. We learned to differentiate between waste vs value added activity. We learned the eight wastes of lean. And we started to learn about 5S.

East Fork fulfillment team at work.

The truth is, we are at the very beginning of this journey. For the most part, what lean looks like at East Fork right now is me and three or four true believers occasionally taking some time to make something work a little bit better. We’ll notice that the RAM team has been stealing a wrench from the jigger jolly team when a stop is stuck on a press. So we’ll take a moment and buy a wrench just for the RAM team and label it and find a spot for it. That’s a brick: a tiny process improvement like having your own wrench and a nice little spot to keep it for when your stops get stuck.

That’s a brick: a tiny process improvement like having your own wrench and a nice little spot to keep it for when your stops get stuck.

Most people on the team are, at best, confused by my enthusiasm for lean. A few weeks ago, Andrew showed me how he had found a better way to put down his mallet after performing SB3s [Weeknight Serving Bowls]. I brought the whole production team to his station to show them his improvement and made everyone clap. It’s such a small, boring thing, but it made me so happy because it was another brick. Marcus was laughing at me and shaking his head but was clapping really loud thinking about that rose window and being able to see through a sheep.

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