A Sense of Urgency Like Smokey & the Bandit

On a recent trip to Brazil, I had the opportunity to visit a 270-employee automotive components manufacturer that is doing Lean. I was very impressed by the openness to change and the energy I felt among both the management and workforce.
There was a visual appeal to the factory. There were visual boards with plant metrics as soon as you walked in the door. There was good 5S in the factory and the floor was spotless (this is a machining plant). There was about 1,400 square feet of space opened up due to recent layout changes and kaizen activity. Their machines (many of them old) had been recently been repainted.
In the office area there were no partitions or walls between desks (open room or “obeya” concept). The Current State and Future State Value Stream Map of production was posted on the wall.
Machining was done in tight u-shaped one-piece flow cells with no WIP inside the cells. They had begun using hour-by-hour production tracking boards in one of the cells. In several places they were tracking MTBF, MTTR, OEE, and availability of machines in the cell. Standard Work was documented and posted on a display board at the head of the cell.
They were preparing to change the entire layout over the weekend to connect two cells and eliminate buffer stocks. They were planning to work on SMED next for their lathes.
In terms of attitude and drive to improve I would rank this company in Brazil among the best small sites I have seen. This made me reflect upon the fact that I have been seeing some very dynamic kaizen activity in developing countries lately. American and European countries have more resources, more knowledge, and more local examples of Lean success, yet seem to be less eager to do kaizen. Al
American companies too often still do no possess and act with a “sense of urgency”, one of the necessary behaviors of a Lean Enterprise. Some time ago I observed that none of the 15 countries I have visited use the expression “We’re number one!” to anywhere near the degree that we do in the U.S.A. As a motivational tool at sporting events this is fine. As a management philosophy, it is deadly. It is a fact that today we are the world’s largest economy. By many other measures, we are not number one as a society and as an economy. Just as in doing kaizen, we can not be afraid to admit that there is opportunity for improvement.
I propose as a nation and as business leaders we adopt the line from the theme song to the film Smokey and the Bandit, “We gonna do what they say can’t be done. We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.”