At it's core, lean and the Toyota Production System is really pretty simple (in theory). All you need to remember are 2 things: "Continuous Improvement" and "Respect for People". These 2 concepts go hand-in-hand-it's not possible to do one without the other.
First, continuous improvement means, well continuous! Every person, every day, figuring out how to make improvements to their work. Companies I work in do hundreds and hundreds of improvements every year. Not periodic kaizen events. Non-stop plan-do-check-act cycles.
Respect for people means that management understands that the person most qualified to improve their job is the person who does that job! Management's job is to teach people to see the 8 wastes and provide them an intentional process (like A3) for them to have at it via temporary, self-directed work teams.
One of the most energizing parts of A3 as a way to do lots of improvements are the closings. This is where people who make improvements share what they did with their peers. Simply put, it is people celebrating and learning together for half an hour per week.
Enter Susan White and Yash Sarda of Atlas Stamping (Newington, CT). I have had the honor of working with the people of Atlas for one year. With the help of Ulbrich Steel, they "got it" very quickly. The A3 board always has 10-12 active improvements, and these improvements close within a few weeks of being started. THOUSANDS of hours of non-value added work have been eliminated from processes all around this 40 person company.
Like many companies, things have slowed a bit during this pandemic. Common sense tells us that this is a good time to take the foot off the gas with regard to lean, right? Wrong!! As leaders, it is more important now than ever to provide a sense of normalcy and connected-ness.
Last Thursday, I attended 3 virtual closings at Atlas. Some people were in the cafeteria (6 feet apart), some were in the offices, and some were at home. The improvements were outstanding (Carlos Gonzales, Anthony Culver and Dan Heneghen) without a doubt, and a couple of new improvements were hatched from the presentations.
People who do lean very well understand that our focus is PEOPLE first, and the improvement is second. The closing is a regularly scheduled routine to celebrate creativity, problem solving ability and for a team of people to express gratitude and appreciation for each other. My friends at Atlas were waving and even blowing kisses at the screen, joking with each other and cheering each other on. It reminded me so much of the Zoom meetings I've had with my own family. Separate.......but together.
The show must go on!!!! Kudos Atlas!!