Guest Blogger: Anthony Henry on Lean Empowerment

Anthony Henry in Depot Repair Facility

Over a year ago, I was hired at ARCA to fill a newly created position—Lean Change Agent.  My role was to help integrate lean into all departments at ARCA.  A little background on me:  before joining the company I had worked as a Senior Operations Manager at Flextronics on the Redbox and Minute-Key assembly lines.

During my first week on the job, I decided to walk the entire facility and just observe. Immediately, I saw that our manufacturing line was producing a lot of waste. The batching system the line was using had a number of opportunities for improvement. Essentially, we had the capacity to produce four times as much as what we were currently doing. Something had to change.

Shortly after, I met with the team to discuss the upcoming changes to the current manufacturing line. The team embraced the change right away, built the units, and we all lived happily ever after.  Well…maybe it didn't happen exactly like that. In reality, there was a backlash. The manufacturing team was immediately resistant to the new process.

At that moment, I realized I had broken several cardinal rules. I didn't take the time to engage the team, empower them, or even ask for feedback. If this new process was going to be implemented, the team would have to be part of the solution.

How often as leaders have we come up with a plan only to see it falter? One of the major inhibitors to creating a lean environment is the inability to trust the workforce and to give up a certain level of control. It's hard to give up the reins. Employees need to have the power to implement their own ideas.

Once I reassessed my approach and empowered the team, it didn't take long for the team to jump on board. Before long we were seeing the benefits. They were able to produce four times the number of units in a week simply by changing their process from batching to a single-piece flow. Sometimes the smallest change can make the biggest difference. 

I will be the first to admit this has not be an easy transition, but, in the end, it has been well worth the effort. Everyone involved in the transition should remember to be patient and to keep their eyes on the prize.

With this transition, the organization took a major step towards “being lean” and not just “doing lean.” And our lean journey continues.