UpFront: Something to Remember
By Brian J. Hogan
Life drives home certain lessons again and again, and even after they're well-learned, the validity of those lessons is constantly emphasized by ordinary events.
Recently I hired a repairman to fix the irrigation system in my lawn—two of the supply pipes had gotten choked by trees. We're planning to sell the house fairly soon, and keeping the system repaired will help the property present well to potential buyers. Straightforward.
As I sat at my desk one busy morning, my wife called and informed me that the repairman had managed to cut our cable TV connection, which she also uses to access the Internet. She was not pleased with the repairman; and because I hired him, she was not pleased with me. Simple job, and suddenly there were complications.
Have you gone flying lately? Have you been eccentric enough to insist on taking a bag or two along? Twice in the last year I've handed my bag over at the counter and gone one way, while my luggage has gone the other. Eventually we got back together, but the aggravation!
And when I decided to buy some new shirts a while back, and set out to explain to the clerk what I wanted. The response was nodding, assurance, and a confident smile. Of course the shirts I was handed were not quite what I'd asked for; but I'm sure they were exactly what the clerk liked.
Simple lesson: Never forget that success in any line of work is driven by the presence of competent, stable people who take their work seriously. True, a bad system will always defeat good people. But a good system still requires good people to function properly.
All too often we assume that some new piece of capital equipment is the key to driving our operations forward. Remember that someone has got to operate the new equipment, and if that someone isn't on top of his/her game, you'll likely find that life is not meant for joy alone.
Lean manufacturing also deserves a mention here. The basic idea underlying lean is that the person in contact with the work should have a lot to say about the process. That person's ideas are valuable, as are that person's skills. The competent, serious worker is always the key to the successful implementation of lean.
Manufacturing, indeed all business, really is about people, not machines, because it's the people who use or misuse or ruin machines. When you find competent, trustworthy people, find ways to tie them down, anchor them, and see that they NEVER get away from you. They are so bloody uncommon, and their polar opposites are everywhere!
This article was first published in the June 2008 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.