I don’t think I could’ve claimed that I read/review books in the category in Lean and Optimization without getting through this classic lean book, recommended by almost every Industrial Engineering professor at Purdue.

The specific copy of the book I owned is interesting, I bought it after my last internship because I wanted to be better equipped in lean going into my second internship. I bought it maybe last fall (2016) and just let it sit there for a whole two semesters. My best friend, Arpitha even brought it to Rome during her study abroad to read while I tried to get through my backlog of books I wanted to finish first.

I started this book Independence Day weekend. During this time, I was struggling with my project at work, the Lead Supervisor of the three Tool lines that I was in charge of just resigned because she could no longer stand the stress of the delivery demands. In a very intimate conversation we exchanged she told me how the extra hours she had been working was eating away at her time spent at home with her young daughters, and she couldn’t be loosing both at work and at home.

The significance of her leaving this role meant that I had to gather as much information as I could from her about everything from the different technicians–their strengths and weaknesses, to the deficiencies and side projects that she had ideas about after having worked in these tool lines for three years. I was new to this process line, the person who knew it was best was out the door and I had to improve the process to increase throughput by at least 25% and significantly reduce the days in repair.

In the book the protagonist, Alex Rogo, the plant manager, faces similar issues as I did with my three tool lines, obviously at a larger scale.

He had to figure out where to even begin, and understand how to begin picking out the bottlenecks in the process, figure out what actions followed these bottlenecks, and finally lead changes and help the relevant employees understand why they started doing things differently.

At some points the story line felt a little forced and unnecessarily profound, like when Alex came up with the idea of creating a takt time for machines running at different paces when the boys in his son’s boys scout trip weren’t all walking at the same pace. I remember when I was telling my boyfriend, Alex about this he laughed and said, “isn’t that common sense.” I don’t think for every epiphany Alex Rogo in the story had there needed to be a practical illustration to explain it. After a while the “uncanny” parallels between the manufacturing floor and Rogo’s life with his kids was an overkill.

I understand that overarching point that the author was trying to make though, it is true that lean principles can be seen in literally any situation in life and there is always many ways and then the best (most efficient) way to do something.

One good thing about this book is that it did also throw in a life lesson about work life balance. Throughout the story, Alex Rogo was trying to save this plant and while that was urgent he put his family, especially his wife on the burner, until she finally left him.

At the end it was cheesy but they talked about what “The Goal” of their marriage was and everything seemed to be better once they aligned their  future vision for their family. In addition, there was a moment when Alex opened up and told his wife about the specific issues with production that he was facing. His wife, even though she wasn’t an engineer, at least started to be less cynical about “why he was spending so much time at work” because she could at least understand the severity of the issue. This brings up a very important point about communication between partners.

One of the things I cherish most about my relationship with my Alex, is the time we take everyday to talk about work. Sometimes before work he’ll ask me what kind of challenges I planned to tackle in my project. Likewise, after work if we’re in person we would either lay down next to each other and I would ask him what his manager asked him to do that day, and how he was able to execute on those tasks. From our conversations I’m able gain valuable and new insight on how to solve my issues, and I also learn that he’s willing (and intelligent enough) to help me instead of judge me for having difficulties (translatable to not work things too!).

So bottom line what is “The Goal” in this book? Throughout the book, Alex went through a lot of trains of thoughts and identified a lot of things that were NOT the goal, for example having the newest technology, or having the most logged productive hours for statistics purposes. The book doesn’t Directly say what it is, but based on my experiences and the actions of the characters in the book, and the changes they influenced. The Goal is to meet customer demand in the most cost effective way (cost being a measure money and time). Understanding the ultimate goal on the floor is definitely the first step to making correct improvements. I can definitely see why this is a classic operations book, required by a lot of leadership programs and IE classes alike.

 

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