- July 14, 2021
- Posted by: David Marshall
- Category: Management, Manufacturing, Measurement
A recent article in IndustryWeek, Once Led Through Fear, a Small Manufacturer Reimagines Itself, got me to thinking about who I often relied on to solve problems in our manufacturing plant.
Last week, I talked about how as a manager, I had learned early on to ask people to “show me” whenever they were dealing with a problem and looking for a solution.
This is an important approach to leadership because too few managers ask their staff to “show me.” They basically sit in their ivory towers and issue instructions. They assume they know more than their associates and will issue plans, production goals, and safety instructions without spending a moment on the factory floor.
But when you actually climb down out of the tower and visit the real problem, you get a whole different perspective as to what the issue is.
A few weeks ago, a LinkedIn contact, Henry, had a work anniversary with the New York subway system. I congratulated him on his milestone, and he sent me a note saying he remembered a day 20 years ago when I went with him into the subway to look at a problem they were having. He said I was the only person who ever walked into the subway with him to look at a problem.
He came to our company with corrosion problems on some of the conduit we had sold them, and he wanted to know how we could fix it. I said, “I’ll be there tomorrow. Can you show me?” I had to see and experience it to understand what he was talking about. That gave him enough time to rearrange the trains so that they didn’t run on the track for several hours.
(Let me just say that every image you have of the New York subway tunnels is true: It was rat-infested, very wet, and filthy.)
In the metro transit tunnels, there are continuous leaks since a lot of the tunnels are below the rivers. Water will wear away a rock given enough time, which is why engineers like to say, “Water always wins.” This means it doesn’t matter what you make, the water will wear it away, from stone to corrosion-resistant conduit. But it was only happening in some of the places, not just everywhere.
Once I got there, I understood what he was talking about. Water was continuously flowing over a piece of conduit, which was wearing away the anti-corrosion coating. It was like a mini-waterfall running over the product, and it was only in those places that the coating was not adhering.
The solution we came up with was to create a shield over the conduit at those points as a way to divert the leaks, building a little roof or gutter. It was a much cheaper solution and they were able to replace the roof material much more easily than replacing the conduit.
But if I hadn’t seen that situation and come up with that solution, we would have been replacing $10 million worth of conduit without ever knowing the problem. I had to go to the actual location to be able to solve the problem.
So walk to where the problem is, ask the person who’s involved for their ideas, and choose the solution that will actually fix the problem, not just fix a symptom.
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business, including pivoting within their industry. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
Photo credit: Heibergerwork (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)