Larry Fast, columnist at Industry Week, is One Smart Guy

Rick Bohan

I don’t know Larry and he doesn’t know me, so this is unsolicited and uncompensated applause for a smart guy who seems to know a lot about lean.  I say that because I always agree with what he writes.  And that’s saying something…I once wrote some guy an email lambasting him for his superficial lean article and he sent one back, calling me every thing but a child of God.  In Larry’s case, I feel almost as if I could just link to his posts rather than writing any of my own!

So…what has me singing Larry’s praises?  Well, all his articles are good and should be read but two in particular perked me up.

The first article I’ll refer to is his most recent:  What Role Will Big Data Analytics and AI Play in the Future of Lean Manufacturing?

When I see an article about such topics, I go right to the edge of my seat.  How many articles have we all read and seminars have we all attended that make claims for IT and new technologies that don’t ever quite seem to get realized?  Never mind that many manufacturing companies (like most of my clients) don’t have the resources to invest in whatever is the latest and greatest tech.

But Larry hits the nail on the head, neither disparaging technology nor idolizing it:

“…it hit me that the issues for big data and IoT [Internet of Things] are more along the lines of outdated thinking in the programming of ERP systems.”

Again, I’m not a detractor of ERP but, too often, it seemed to me to be a solution in search of a problem.  Or, at least, a “jackhammer” solution when a two-pound hammer and chisel would have done.  I was first exposed to ERP about twenty years ago at a client whom I was helping implement total quality management.  I remember asking a lot of the folks there just what ERP was and what it would do.  I got as many different answers as there were people I addressed the question to.  That was a red flag.  Eventually, I got that it was hoped that the ERP software would help with customer service…getting the right product to the right customer on time, every time.  It wasn’t clear to me why a multi-million dollar software system was needed to accomplish that but I figured there was something about it I didn’t know.

Turns out, there wasn’t actually much I didn’t know.  Here’s Larry’s take:

“Corporations are still spending untold millions of dollars buying “new” ERP systems that still rely mostly on traditional thinking and reporting. Further, report formatting, because of the same outdated thinking, isn’t structured in a way to get actionable, real-time reporting.”

In my mind, the problem isn’t the lack of “actionable, real time reporting”, it’s actionable, real-time information about process performance (though that might be what Larry has in mind).  Will my ERP system tell me whether or not that gaylord of parts sitting there by itself on the shop floor is on time or not and how long it’s been sitting there?  Maybe so, but I bet not, and the info won’t be easy to find in any case.  And this isn’t even getting into whether the ERP systems will tell managers anything at all, given that many such systems have never been configured correctly or the requisite databases built and maintained because, of course, those tasks take a lot of work.  I’ve never quite understood why companies happily (I guess) spend millions on ERP systems when visual factory methods would give them a fair portion of the same value at much less cost. (That said, developing and sustaining effective visual factory takes a lot of work as well.)

Larry’s other good article, “Our Daily Huddle Meetings Are Exercises in Frustration”,  is a bit older.  Larry addresses a question about huddle meetings (I call them “tier meetings”) that go on too long and aren’t effective.  Again, Larry hits the nail on the head.  Huddle meetings aren’t meant to cover anything and everything or to lead to solutions to every problem that afflicts the organization.  They are SHORT meetings intended to cover only the most fundamental information needed to get the day started.  (I tell my clients, “Huddle meetings last ten minutes.  Not eleven minutes.  Ten minutes.)  Larry says it well:

It’s always a stand-up meeting in the work place.  This is a strong indicator that this will be a short meeting. It creates purpose and urgency to agree on what needs to be done TODAY!”

Larger problems, issues, concerns, and decisions are taken “off line” and discussed at another time and, perhaps, among different people.

Larry’s a regular on the IndustryWeek web site.  I’m going to check out some of his other stuff.  He’s obviously a smart guy.


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