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Find a Factory Whisperer

Most people look at a factory, and just see a building where people make things. They just see chaos. They see people mixed with inanimate objects, sprinkled with the occasional robot.

But there is more to it than that. A factory is a living, breathing, active thing. It has a pulse. It grows. It gets sick.

So how do you make a factory thrive? You find a factory whisperer. You want someone who can come in and observe the flow, and watch how things move. They must be able to diagnose the illnesses that plague your production processes. They have to someone who can speak calmly, and be able to form a plan to get your plant behaving better. You need someone who deeply understands the behavior of a production system.

So where do you find this mentor?

  1. Hire an expert. (My personal preference: me.) You can hire someone to come in and get you pointed down the right path. The upside is that a good one can pay off their fees many times over. The downside is that good ones are hard to identify, and it requires a sometimes substantial investment.
  2. Ask a question in an online forum. Many, many forums exist online that give people an unprecedented opportunity to access group knowledge. The upside is that this method is free, and often quick. The downside is that many answers are not very good, or just plain wrong. You’ll have to sift through the responses to get the pearls. Plus, you probably can’t get very detailed, or give away confidential information to get your answer.
  3. Ask an expert. More and more people with Lean expertise are showing up online. Many have ways to ask questions. The upside is that you can get a feel for their expertise from their site. The downside is that they may have a lot of questions coming their way, and may only answer a limited number of them. The expert’s limited bandwidth may not match your needs.
  4. Join a local group. Many groups like SME provide networking opportunities to meet other like-minded individuals. The upside is that you get a lot of expertise. The downside is that many people are in the same boat as you, looking for answers. Plus, larger groups focus on big picture things, not just your problems.
  5. Partner with other companies. You won’t want to link up with competitors, obviously, but you can find a few local companies dealing with the same problems who can share best practices. The upside is that you find people who are committed to solving the same challenges your company is facing. The downside is that finding the right companies to link up with can be hard.
  6. Get a Jonah. In The Goal, the main character, Alex, bumped into a former teacher, who happened to be a manufacturing wizard as well. The upside is that mentors take your success on as a personal goal, so are committed to helping you. The downside is that it may be hard for you to find this person. Fortunately, one way may be closer than you think. Look over your network of contacts. You’d be surprised how willing people, even a friends of friends, are to help each other out.
  7. Take a class. You’ll meet an instructor who can answer your questions, and you’ll meet students who are great future contacts. The upside is that classes are widely available. The downside is that the class has

Now, finding the right factory whisperer can take a long time, and may not happen on your first crack at it. It is well worth the effort, though, to gain the knowledge to add greatness to your company.

So, readers, what other sources are out there to gain more improvement expertise?


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