Genchi Genbutsu in a Warehouse

Now and then something comes across that makes it all worth it. And nothing is more “worth it” to me than to know something I said or did contributed to someone’s insight or impetus to do something spectacular.

Yesterday Earl sent me an email that is one of those times. I was going to edit it from an email to me into a story about Earl’s experience. But instead, I decided to just publish it (with his permission) pretty much as I got it. But to be clear, this is about Earl, and his learning, not about me or my teaching.

Mark,

I received this email [see below] the other day from John.

John was one of the lean leaders working for me in Rochester when I was the Lean Director for Kodak’s Global Logistics team and you were the Lean Director for Equipment Mfg. He is now a professor at RIT teaching lean.

One of the things he does with every class is bring them through his old operation in Kodak. The operation is an outbound crossdock for all of Kodak Park where, through applying our lean principles, primarily “flowing at takt”, we have taken a 2,000,000 square foot (186,000 m2) warehouse and replaced it with an 85,000 square foot (<8000 m2) crossdock.

Along the way we reduced the costs by 70%, improved the reliability to +/- a few hours, and amassed an enviable safety record….and as you can see in his note, we’re making it better every day.

When I think back to how we got here, I have to go back to what started as an innocent Friday night, when you, Paul Cary, and I were sitting around his office and you and Paul were pushing on me that we weren’t really thinking about lean in the right way in Logistics, and I was pushing back that “you didn’t understand”….that we just move pallets around the warehouse.

I can remember like it happened yesterday, but it was actually a few years ago, you and Paul looked at each other, looked at me, jumped up and said “Let’s go see”, so we did.

Several hours later, we emerged from the warehouse, not tired and worn out, but energized and excited. You had helped me to see what was invisible to me (and everyone else around)….even though I was the local “lean expert”.

The approach was classic “Mark”, and I have to admit I’ve stolen it and used it as my own many times, although not nearly as effortlessly. At your insistence, we entered through the outbound dock door, as you pointed out, “closest to the customer”. As I started to walk through and into the warehouse proper, you stopped at the door, and made me stop and describe what I was seeing.

The “Five Why’s” were relentless, and I think it was something like 30-40 minutes before we even moved off that spot, but the seeds were planted right then and there. I had now started to see the whole warehouse as “waste” and totally unnecessary if we could only get product flowing at takt. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve relied on the lessons learned that night to guide me when I get in the middle of something unfamiliar to me.

Well, it took us a couple of years, but your invaluable and patient counsel over the next few years shaped a whole organization’s culture. I know better (now) than to suggest “we’ve arrived”, but the principle of using “flow at takt” and making waste visible to drive continuous improvement is firmly rooted in our DNA now.

Aside from the impressive performance statistics of the operation I know you’ll appreciate more that the things you taught me have been dutifully passed along from me to the manager of the area, and through him, to his successor, and now through the college to many more. All we have to do now is close the loop and get you to hire one of the RIT students somewhere!

I’ll not pretend that a couple of hours on a Friday night several years ago was all it took, and I’m forever indebted to the many hours you spent with me afterwards helping me to grow, but it was truly a life changing event, and I thought you’d appreciate seeing a snippet of what it’s led to. Thanks again for all your insight and support in our, and my, journey.

If you ever find your way back East, you have to stop in to see it, drinks are on me. It is pretty wild, but if you do, I might tiptoe carefully around the idea that you’re the guy that taught me to “physically constrain the process to force it to flow at takt”. It was an essential part of our journey, but obviously anyone that would suggest we can change a 2,000,000 square foot warehouse into an 85,000 square foot crossdock can’t be seeing the world the right way! (Of course I have to follow that up with one of my favorite quotes one of the VP’s here used….”If it wasn’t for the fact we already did it, we would have said it’s impossible”. Thanks again.
This is the email he is talking about:

Dave and Tony, thanks again for giving the walk through to my 25 advanced lean class students yesterday. Some observations:

I think the floor was about the cleanest I have ever seen it. It is always clean, but yesterday seemed even more so.

The evidence of continuous improvement is amazing. Yesterday I saw a number of things that I did not see in my last visit Feb 10 – new lane structures, hybrid cards, changes in box 2, clearer e-box sheets, new standard work sheets and visuals, etc.

I really appreciate you taking to heart the input I gave you based on the feedback from my last class on the tour structure/agenda itself. The last tour was very good, this one was awesome. The standard work sheet Dave showed me for the tour was great standard work – content, sequence, timing and outcomes were all vividly clear. I asked for more of a focus on the production control system and you delivered on that request. Dave, in your intro, you sounded like me teaching my class (maybe not a good thing?!?).

[…]I was pleased the students had more time to ask more questions. I keep preaching continuous improvement in class and you guys model it which helps give the message credibility in the minds of the students.

The other thing that struck me, which is not new but seemed different for some reason I can’t explain….. You are moving large volumes of freight, […] and the floor is just so calm. There is no panic, no arguing, no anxiety, just people following the processes, getting product from point A to point B, in a quiet, controlled, efficient way. I still remember when I brought the facilities class over last spring, and especially 2 of the folks with lots of work experience said “I never imagined that a warehouse type of environment could actually look like this.”

Your safety performance is stunning. I know the record when I was there was 534 days. Then we had 2 “old-age” repetitive motion injuries in 2 weeks, then you went 600 + days. Now you are at 200+ days. Absolutely remarkable in a tight space with fork lift trucks moving around. 3 OSHA reportables in 4 years, wow.

I clearly remember “that Friday night.” I think we were in there until 10:00 or later. Paul and I had a really good synergistic style, we reinforced each other, and it was an intense experience for whoever was on the receiving end. This was not the last time we took someone through this exercise.

To be sure, it was Earl and his team that did all of the heavy lifting. All Paul and I did was give him a sense of an ideal flow, and challenged them to discover, and overcome, the obstacles between the current state and that vision – one problem at a time, a couple every day.

One thought to “Genchi Genbutsu in a Warehouse”

  1. “Flow at Tact” great way to put into words the world of warehousing. It’s my goal. Thanks for the encouragement and insight.

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