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  • Writer's pictureBill Greider

Respect for People equals a lot of Lego Airplanes!

My friends know I LOVE teaching a Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt class as part of a program here in Connecticut called Skill Up for Manufacturing. It is an intense 5 weeks of instruction designed for people looking to transition into manufacturing. The students attend full-time for those 5 weeks and come away with enough knowledge and hands on experience to make them very attractive to the many companies that come to their job fair. It has turned into a win-win for the students and the employers!

Since the companies that hire these people are involved in lean, continuous improvement and/or six sigma, we thought it was a good idea to offer a yellow belt (15 hours of training) so they can hit the ground running as even more value-added employees.

My course is structured where most of the learning about lean and six sigma is done on their own in small batches as homework. This is where the tools are learned....14 principles, flow, the 8 wastes, SMED, poka yoke, introduction to six sigma, TPM, mapping and 6S.

Class time is reserved for applying most of these tools to Lego airplanes. Before tools, teams of 5 are lucky to make a handful of planes in a 6 minute shift. After tools, the Skill Up record had been 47 planes in those same 6 minutes.

Which brings me to this current group. I let them know that the "world" record (as far as I know) is 60 planes in 6 minutes. That was set over the course of a 15 week Lean Operations Management class I taught at Central CT State University by mostly engineering students. It took them 15 weeks to figure out how to eliminate enough waste to make 60.

This group automatically set their sights on 61, which is a takt time of 5.9 seconds per plane. Most would have been happy with the Skill Up record of 48. Not these people.

From day one, it was obvious that the 7 people in this class had a very high level of respect for each other and were extremely good team players. They listened intently to each other, considered every idea thoughtfully and no one felt the need to be alpha dog. If one student missed a day, others helped to make sure they were up to speed. I had a feeling early on that this group would make a run at the record.

So last week, they found out where the legos are stored, and during their breaktime , decided to try a few single factor experiments to make a run at the world record. They had previously achieved 46 planes in 6 minutes, one plane short of the Skill Up record. Low and behold, by leveraging their diversity of thinking and gaining agreement, they made 52 in 6 minutes, recorded it, and sent it to me. I have included the last minute of this run for your viewing pleasure. I haven't seen this much joy since the Sox won the World Series in 2004.

These people are graduating this week. Congrats to Robert Andreana, Michael Backert, Derek Mcmullen, Eric Meijia, James Morello, Alicjia Mosur and Brandon Swinson. And of course Paul Barrow, who guided these students through the 5 weeks. Whichever companies lucky enough to hire you are in for a real treat. You make me smile!!

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