Stop “Studying” and Make Something Happen!

Since 1988 our consulting firm has been helping American and international companies make the transition to World Class manufacturing.   We’ve encountered a host of “Rocks,” many of which repeat from company to company.

Perhaps one of the most prevalent and detrimental inhibitors we’ve come across in almost every manufacturing facility and/or organization, is the reluctance to DO SOMETHING! (“We’re all for this “Lean Manufacturing” stuff, as long as we don’t have to change anything!”)   We’ll study it.   We’ll talk about it.   We’ll evaluate it.   We’ll plan it… often “to death”.   But we’ll resist like hell when someone wants to actually change something!

We, at the Hands-On Group, have developed a transition process that has been extremely effective in overcoming this resistance.   We call the methodology Rapid Impact Blitz (RIB).   We’ll explain this process in more detail in a minute.   First, let’s discuss the “Rapid Impact” approach in general: a series of steps we’ve developed to get both upper and middle management involvement and support, cause something to happen on the shop floor and in the office areas, and develop the resulting natural work teams into functioning entities.

The first step is to educate top management, get a commitment for support, and set specific, tangible business goals.   The second step involves getting the middle management ranks educated, involved, and accountable for some tangible results in a reasonably short time period (3-9 months).   The third step is the “Rapid Impact Blitz” (RIB) process.   And, the fourth major step involves the “soft skills”: getting the natural work teams (formed during the RIB process) to act as a cohesive team, resolving interpersonal conflicts, brainstorming, measuring and setting goals, solving problems, etc.

Don’t get the feeling that this is a long, drawn out process.   It is not uncommon to hold the top management “visioning” session on Monday and Tuesday, hold a couple education/ discussion sessions with middle management on Wednesday, and begin the “RIB” process (explained below) on Thursday and Friday.


“Rapid Impact Blitz (RIB)” is composed of three distinct segments: education; demonstration; and implementation; all of which take place within a time span of two to five days!

The method is specifically designed to MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN in an area of manageable size.   This can be a shop area, a purchasing organization, a field service group, etc.   Let’s use a shop operation as an example.

All direct labor operators from the area in question, or, if this is not practical, a cross-section sampling of direct labor people, along with all support people (manufacturing engineering, quality control, production control, etc.) attend a four hour classroom session.   The first two hours are composed of an overview of the concepts and philosophy of World Class Manufacturing, as well as a few pertinent techniques, e.g., set-up reduction, pull vs. push, etc.

The third hour is a participative demonstration of the Lean Manufacturing philosophy and techniques, through the use of a simple paper “product”.   Class attendees play traditional roles of fabrication, assembly, material handling, production scheduling, etc., as we build product in an attempt to serve the customer.   Several critical parameters are measured: response time (time from receipt of order to customer delivery), quality, cost, inventory, space, and others.

The same participants then transition to World Class concepts: Kanban signals replace work orders, space restriction eliminates the need for material handling, Work In Process inventory reduction greatly reduces the number of possible defects produced and dramatically improves the response time, etc.

A third iteration introduces a multitude of additional product varieties, greatly complicating the environment.   “Synchronized Pull”, the combination of a sequenced build schedule and kanban signals, is introduced and implemented.

The final result: 90+% reduction in WIP inventory and response time, 20+% reduction in cost, dramatic improvements in quality, 40-50% reduction of space, and ten-fold increase in product variety.   By this time most participants are enthusiastic, positive, and excited.

The last hour is spent helping the “Natural Work Team (NWT)”, formed during this process, establish tangible short-term goals, measurement methods, and improvement curves.

The natural inclination, at this point, would be to send them back out to the floor with some inspirational message such as “GO DO IT!”

With very few exceptions, where this has been done, …………… NOTHING HAPPENED!   It’s “business as usual”.

What we have found is that the true learning comes AFTER the classroom session.   That the critical education process is to spend the rest of the day, on the shop floor translating the classroom concepts and techniques into tangible, real, physical products and processes; the things that the people deal with all day long.   But even this translation of classroom concepts to true tangible product/process understanding has often not been enough.   You see, we’ve spent years, in most traditional manufacturing companies, informally telling people that they cannot change things (“Check your brains at the door”, We’ll tell you exactly what to do, how to do it, when to do it, etc.).   Is it reasonable to expect these same people to suddenly “get religion” and start initiating change?

This is where the critical action portion of the RIB process takes place.

So far, the people have had an explanation of World Class Manufacturing concepts and techniques; they’ve participated in a demonstration of the process and experienced the magnitude of the improvements possible; measurements and goals have been established, and we’ve conceptually transferred the classroom concepts to their actual workplace environment.   The emphasis has been on transferring knowledge and understanding.   Now it is time to transfer the power to make change!   The way this is done is relatively simple in both concept and practice.   The way we teach people to make things happen, is to make something happen!

The normal tendency is to over-study things, putting off physical change until every conceivable circumstance has been mentally evaluated (the search for perfection).

It’s a “safe” approach.   It also destroys inertia and greatly inhibits the continuous improvement process!

Allow me to suggest a guideline checklist for making rapid change: 1) Is it safe? 2) Can we recover without negative impact on the customer? and, 3) Has everyone that would be impacted by this change been notified?   If we get positive answers to these questions, ……….. JUST DO IT!

If no employee’s safety is adversely affected; If, should the change “fail” in the most spectacular way imaginable, we can still provide our customer with a quality product and an on-time delivery (through overtime, air freight, whatever), and; If all parties impacted by this change have had an opportunity to object; then no further study is required.

Before we leave the classroom for the work area, the members of the team are asked to set specific tangible consensus goals.   These typically include at least a reduction in the total process cycle, and an on-time completion goal.   Sometimes easier-to-measure goals are set as well: reduction of space and/or reduction of total product travel distance are a few examples.   Cost, quality, and other goals are generally set at a later date.   The goals are plotted on a flip chart, along with a “Problem /Idea” chart.   These will be prominently displayed in the area and regularly updated by the team.   Management’s role is to assist the NWT (natural work team) achieve its goals by providing support in resolving the items listed on the “Problem/Idea” chart.

Accountability, Problem - Idea chart, responsibility, action items, due dates, who by when

The following “disclaimer” is clearly spelled out: “Whatever we change today, I’ll guaranteed that it WILL NOT WORK!   You, the people who spend 8 hours a day working in the area, can however, make it work.   You will be able to “tweak” the process so that quality products flow through the area.   No amount of pre-planning will ever eliminate the need for this on-the-fly fine tuning”.

Another simple guideline that is best discussed in advance is this.   DO THE EASY STUFF FIRST.   Quite often, if enough “easy” improvements are made, the need for the “difficult” changes goes away.   We define “easy” as low cost, requiring little outside expertise, and do-able in a short period of time.   Do not hesitate to put difficult items in the “Too hard” pile for the time being.

Ask constantly, “Why?”, “Why not?”, and “What would keep us from doing that today?”   When some other person/group is impacted, pick up the phone and get them involved NOW!   Do not allow the nebulas “they” to keep you from moving forward.   Find out who “they” are, and get them to approve or explain why not.

MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN!   The more dramatic, the better.   Physically re-arrange the area if possible (Ideally, both salaried and hourly people work side by side physically moving equipment, bolting and unbolting, labeling containers, taping out kanban squares on work benches, etc.).   Have each operator explain to the following operator what to look for as possible defects (sequential inspection).   Do a major housekeeping (sweep and clean the entire area).   Consolidate the necessary material and remove all excess back to the stockroom.   Remove all excess containers, shelves, racks, etc.   Put flip charts in the area and begin writing up problems, ideas, and comments.   Make it visible, graphic, a flurry of activity. ACTION, ACTION, ACTION!

You may want to assign a couple “score keepers”.   Have them record the number of units in WIP, the amount of space (workbenches, feet of conveyor, etc.), and other such parameters (the “before” condition).   Consider video tape and/or still photographs to assist with the documentation.   We’ve found that even those who worked in the area for years, will soon forget just how “bad” it was.

Lean Manufacturing is an iterative process.   Once the blitz week is over and the NWT has worked out the easy kinks, then specific lean tools / techniques will be introduced as needed to resolve the specific problems they have encountered.

The RIB process is propagated throughout the entire company; each area provided two to five days for the transition.   One area, or multiple areas in parallel, can be making the change depending on the amount of resources applied.   Note that “off” shift operations deserve the same RIB opportunity as that of the first shift.   Have the shifts communicate through flip chart notes and scheduled individual operator overlap (an operator staggers his/her hours so as to overlap with the other shift).

Some of the results attained by client companies include:

90% reduction in WIP inventory and cycle time; Record output levels (productivity); and record first-pass yields (quality); accomplished in six weeks!

A complete transition from “make to stock” to “assemble to order” (completely eliminating finished goods inventory) within two months!

Generation of $52 million in cash through inventory reduction in six months;

One metal finishing plant achieved productivity increases in excess of $2 million per year, in just three 4-day events!

If you would like a benchmark with which to judge your Lean progress to date, here are a couple sites for comparison:   Some typical HOG client results data, and a comparison of philosophies and outcomes.


The Hands-On Group was founded in 1988, with the single objective of providing client companies dramatic, tangible results, in very short time periods.

What resulted was the powerful “Rapid Impact” approach.   This unique process allows, actually forces, the rapid transformation of traditional manufacturers to World Class Practices.   It combines the powerful proven benefits of (1): “the teachable moment”, the point in time when people and teams of people have a real business need to develop new skills, with (2) “immediate implementation”, the action required to utilize and implement these skills.

Successes include a wide range of companies encompassing large and small factory and distribution sites, varied industries, and both union and non-union environments.   The client list reads like a “Who’s Who” in modern manufacturing.

The Hands-On Group has held seminars and workshops across North America and Europe, attended and acclaimed by literally thousands of professionals from across the world.   All affiliates are seasoned professionals, with the combination of extensive multi-industry experience and top-notch academic credentials.

Jack B. Harrison
Senior Partner
The Hands-On Group

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