Lean Manufacturing

Work Hard, Complain, and Do Kaizen

By Jon Miller Published on February 23rd, 2006

The Director of Human Resources for one of our clients had an “ah-ha” moment about her role in supporting Lean manufacturing and how to combine kaizen with respect for people. After we benchmarked a company effectively involving everyone with kaizen, she asked us with great concern “How can we ask our people to ‘work smarter, not harder’ when in fact they will be working harder?”
At the exemplar kaizen factory we visited, workers were working steadily for 7 hours (shift of 8 hours minus breaks). At our client’s factory, the rules regarding breaks were taken more freely. Material shortages created ‘natural’ breaks in the production lines, and a certain amount of downtime due to chatting and socializing was tolerated during work hours.
As a result of these policies and conditions, the Director of Human Resources admitted that her workers put in closer to 6 hours out of an 8 hour shift. As kaizen activity improves material and information flow improved and steady one-piece flow was in place, the workers would be working 7 out of 8 hours.
Her point was that the workers aren’t stupid and would see the result of kaizen as working harder, not smarter. She believed in kaizen but felt it was not respectful to go forward with their Lean manufacturing education efforts without addressing this issue. I am no human resources expert so I had to think about this before giving her an answer.
The kaizen answer to this question is:
The company pays people to put in 7 hours of work out of 8 hours at the factory. Both sides need to honor this agreement. That should be non negotiable item. Management has set a false expectation that 6 hours of work is OK for 7 hours of pay, so the need to admit that they were wrong and correct it.
People will probably feel tired and bored after a week of working in the new way, 7 hours out of 8 instead of 6 hours out of 8. This is natural since they are taking fewer breaks and doing one more hour of physical work per day. Management should respect the intelligence of their people and apologize for this temporary discomfort.
The way to approach this situation is to see that it is a great opportunity for kaizen. As people will be very aware of work that is difficult, annoying, dangerous, or unclear it is the perfect opportunity to educate people about waste and how to get rid of it through giving their kaizen ideas.
The goal for the team leaders and group leaders at this factory is to get kaizen ideas out of people, no matter how small, before people get used to working 7 hours and it no longer bothers them.
The goal for the engineers should be to kaizen the work through the use of low cost automation (jidoka), mistake proofing (pokayoke), etc. so that it feels like you are doing 6 hours of work even though it’s 7 hours of work.
I’m all for hard work if “hard” means “challenging”. If “hard” means anything in the neighborhood of difficult, dirty, unpleasant, dangerous, boring, etc. then hard work is kaizen fodder. Do hard work once, complain about what makes it hard, stop complaining and do kaizen so it’s never hard again. In a Lean manufacturing workplace based on TPS principles it’s not your job to do work that is hard – it’s your job to think of ways to eliminate what makes the work hard. That’s the challenge for our Director of Human Resources.

  1. Eric H

    February 23, 2006 - 7:51 am

    I can’t find a link right now, but I think there are studies that show that people would rather do hard work if they can see that it is beneficial than they would meaningless work. If you know you are wasting your time doing something that will just be scrapped, you feel as if it is a waste of your time. Kathleen has told me that stitchers in a sewing factory will get immediately upset if working on a bad process because they work on piece rate and the poor processes hit them more immediately in the wallet. Paco Underhill writes that people would rather wait longer in a moving checkout line than shorter in a static line because they at least have the sense that things are progressing.
    There is also the story where Ohno found someone who watched a machine all day long. He asked him if the machine ever broke down, and was told that it never broke down. Ohno sent him off, and I’m sure that whatever he did instead was more satisfying than watching an error-free machine for 7 hours. Kathleen also told me that she has red studies which found that people enjoyed work that flowed and kept them 100% engaged more than work which was jerky, interrupted, and probably more firefighting than productive.
    So, yeah, it might be more work time, but it’s more satisfying work, so it doesn’t seem so much like work.

  2. Bill Waddell

    February 23, 2006 - 8:23 am

    This reminded me of the principles of a kind of zen/i.e. guy named Ueno Yoichi who was exploring variations of scientific management in Japan during Shingo’s formative years. One thing he taught was if the standard were ten minutes, for instance, it was unfair to management for the worker to take longer; but if management needed only one piece it was unfair to the worker if management wasted his time having him make two. Both worker and manager needed to be careful not to steal time from each other. There is a lot of ‘time stealing’ going on on both sides these days in the manufacturing world

  3. Keerthi Abeywickrama

    February 23, 2006 - 6:58 pm

    In Sri Lanka, most employers provide morning and afternoon tea for the workers. Few years back, when a clothing factory increased output by focusing on workflow in the sewing room, the owners agreed to provide team incentives, since it was the trend. Though workers were happy with incentive the Supervisors felt the workers were tired, hence the owners agreed to give them more nutritious milked tea than continue with plain tea. Latter when the workers were achieving higher performance due to Kaizen they got a snack too. We are still motivated with food, easier is it?

  4. Bill Waddell

    February 24, 2006 - 11:15 am

    Keerthi, I know you and the folks at SewEasy are too smart to believe you can achieve higher productivity by bribing people with food. The tea and snacks were just the tangible signs of management’s gratitude, compassion and respect. They produced more because the owners demonstrated that the workers were important to them, and that the owners saw them as very real human beings.

  5. Ted

    March 1, 2006 - 9:08 pm

    The work you are looking for is “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Paperback)
    by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi” – which shows that people are most content when they are doing tasks that stretch the mind.
    More simply you can remind people that there are workers who only work 10 hours a week and hate their jobs, while others work 80 hours a week and love them. What’s the difference? Using their brains, seeing the impact on the customer, knowing that they are making a difference. This is what LEAN brings.
    One solution could also be to claim that hour and put it toward Kaizen activity – think how much more enjoyable a workplace is when you are given time to improve it based on your ideas. I doubt folks working 6 hours a day in a top-down culture are happier than those working 7 hours a day where they are respected.
    Just something to think about.

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