A Strange Day in a New Plant:
The “Beheaded Chicken”
Landing at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris was delayed due to an early-
morning strike of air trac controllers. “at’s France” came immediately
to omas’s mind. Despite a very promising forecast, the weather was dis-
mal at the airport. Late winter had brought a lot of wind, clouds, and rain
this year. All of this impacted omas’s thoughts about his assignment.
Many questions came into his mind: “Why isn’t the plant performing?
Are unions very strong? Are people involved? Do they want to change?
Will they accept me? And, nally, “Will I succeed?” Another reason for
omas’s anxiety was that the previous plant director had been red ve
days ago. erefore, he would not receive induction from his predecessor.
On the rst morning in the plant, omas decided to take a quick tour
of the shop oor. A home appliance plant, three separate departments pro-
duce the goods made here. A manager heads each department and reports
to the plant director. e three departments are preparation, assembly,
and nal nishing. e preparation department includes four main activ-
ities, grouped in four areas: frames (frames welding), electronics (elec-
tronic components preparation), body (metal sheet stamping), and plastic
(plastic molding). is last department was organized as a job shop and
the production of each reference was done in big batches due to lengthy
change times. Some of the changes here would require a total cleaning of
the machines, such as for plastic molding. is would result in one to two
hours of stoppage.
e assembly department had three areas. In the rst stage, frames and
electronic components were assembled. is stage had been identied as
the bottleneck of the plant. Several operators in parallel workstations, as
in the other assembly stages, performed operations here. In the second
4 • Implementing Standardized Work
stage, a subassembly coming from the rst stage was assembled with steel
sheet. In the third and nal assembly stage, plastic parts produced in the
preparation department were added to the subassembly coming from the
second stage. Aer leaving the assembly department, the home appliance
was sent to the nishing department for nal inspection and packing.
Back in his oce, omas did a very quick sketch of the material ow
(Figure 2.1). He noticed that it corresponded exactly to the synthetic ow
chart he had received from Steve, the plant’s industrial engineering man-
ager, a few days earlier. “is is a good point to start with,” he whispered
with some sense of relief.
e plant had a few fundamental recurrent issues: production was not
done according to the schedule, never on time, at too high a cost, and not
always with the best quality results. Waste in this plant was the highest in
the entire corporation. ese issues had huge consequences on the plant
nancials because they translated into a substantial loss of materials, and
the cost of raw plastic had been going up consistently as a consequence of
increased oil prices. “I already turned around factories that had some of
these problems, but none with all of them at once. is new place seems to
be a real challenge,” omas thought.
His observations on the shop oor were quite typical of an organization
facing such problems: high inventory in many places and shortage of semi-
products in other process steps, as well as limited, not existing, or poor
instructions at the workstations. Operators were performing their jobs in
their own way. All of this resulted in many process ow disturbances.
Work in this factory was labor-intensive despite some automation of the
process. Also, labor costs contributed a lot to the overall cost structure.
erefore, omas decided he would focus on people. “Everything is in
their hands … and probably in their minds too,” he thought.
omas’s next day was dedicated to the review of operators’ work. He was
appalled by what he saw during his visit—operators doing a lot of motion.
Was that really an ecient way to do things? He doubted it. Probably some
of them wanted to demonstrate how much eort was required on their
job. In most cases, that was true. Components in the assembly department
were located far from the machines, and each operator had to walk quite
a lot during the shi. In addition, the same workstations with the same
machines, delivering the same product, were arranged in dierent layouts.
at was another factor inuencing unequal outputs.
omas was surprised that such basic Lean principles had not reached
this plant. He remembered that the Lean/Six Sigma corporate director