As Bill Good, vice president of manufacturing at GE Appliances, and Rich Calvaruso, senior director of lean, would go on Gemba walks through the factory questioning leadership they saw that the leaders were struggling with the answers.
“We realized that our leadership didn’t have a high lean IQ,” explained Calvaruso. “So we set out to understand the issue and to create a program to fix this.”
While their lean efforts had been focused on front-line associates, not enough training was concentrated on the leadership.
They found that their lean journey had in fact plateaued in 2016. By re-evaluating the progress in each of their plants, they learned that many of their operations were struggling and showed little evidence of standardized work within their assembly operations.
After analyzing several potential approaches to bridge this knowledge gap, they decided to create an intense, hands-on leadership program called the Appliances Production System (APS) Immersion
“We felt that by physically using the tools, they would learn exactly what an operator did,” said Good. “In addition to learning the procedures and processes, they were asked to improve the work station as well.”
The course involved two weeks on the assembly line where each leader must improve the job or the line they are assigned to as a way to demonstrate their standardized work and problem-solving skills. Another week the coursework tackles one by-one problem-solving. And for the final week leaders participate in Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) event where they learn the importance of equipment reliability and its impact on product quality and overall plant performance.
As the program is intense and lasts a month, there was some resistance about being able to afford losing leadership for a month, but Calvaruso defended the program saying “we can’t afford not to.”
Calvaruso said the reception from the shop floor was enthusiastic. They felt it was helpful for leaders to spend a day in their shoes. To ensure that leaders felt comfortable learning and failing they were sent to a different part of the operation than they managed.
“Some high- profile leaders stepped up and became true test cases for the program,” explained Good. “The individuals were solid leaders and they became fantastic leaders in driving lean.”
Viewing the production floor from the inside with a different set of eyes allows new solutions to surface. Good said the company saw improvements in productivity, quality and safety metrics.
The program has even caught the attention of CEO Kevin Nolan who went through the training. After working a washer assembly line during the day, Kevin put his engineering talents to use and created a new mechanism in his home workshop and at FirstBuild, GE Appliances’ state-of-the-art co-creation community and microfactory. What he designed and created keeps a heat shield from dropping, therefore improving the job for one of the operators he worked with for a week.
“The production line is where value is created,” said Nolan. “Some of the best ideas come from the people that are closest to our products and designs. Our focus needs to be helping them be successful because the more they succeed means we’ll deliver better products and services to our customers and owners.”