How skiing is like lean manufacturing

Friday, June 16, 2017

AME Author, Target Editorial Board Chairman

The ski season has just passed but I think there are lessons to be learned and shared!

First, I am not an expert skier, intermediate at best, my grandkids say!

But I have taken lessons and I have a few friends, a daughter-in-law and others who are very good and they encourage me. I’ve often heard three rules from them that apply to skiing and as I analyze them, I found they apply to the lean transformation.

Three Rules of Skiing and Lean manufacturing

  1. Lean forward
  2. Always be prepared to stop
  3. Ski down the fall line

Lean forward- What’s this? I grew up water skiing and “lean back” is the rule there! If you lean forward you go face first into the drink get a mouthful of water and have to start all over again. In other words, in snow skiing you have to forget everything you thought you knew and relearn from the ground up.

In lean manufacturing, we must unlearn all the bad habits we’ve picked up along the way -  batch & queue, big inventory, big promises, brow beating people and making all the decisions. We must focus on one piece flow, JIT inventory, only promise what your team can deliver, have respect for people and mentor them since they are the smartest on their job anyway.

Always be prepared to stop – Why stop? Full speed ahead- after all, in manufacturing, the schedule rules and we must deliver by the end of the month, no matter what. The highest of all goals can be making monthly billings/shipments!

In lean manufacturing, we want continuous flow from the first day of the month to the last day. Takt time is important and we want consistency in flow –MURI, so that the process is working smoothly every day. If we have smooth flow we also get high quality and few returns from the customer. But we must look for problems and stop the process until we find the root cause and fix it for the long term. Short term production to meet billing/shipping goals will generate larger problems.

Ski down the fall line – Why would I ever want to do that? I get up too much speed and go out of control and then spend lots of time looking for skis and putting them back on and trying to stand up—whew!!

In lean manufacturing, we always want to look for continuous improvement in everything we do including office work, engineering, fabrication, assembly and test while focusing on value added to the customer. Remember the “If the customer would not pay for it why are we doing it” challenge? So, by challenging what feels comfortable (the same old way) we learn and improve faster. It’s a risk to stay safe and traverse the hill slowly side to side, but by taking a little risk at a time, we can become more proficient and can come closer to skiing down the fall line even on the Black Diamond slopes!

We can learn a lot from skiing and apply it in our daily jobs.