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Bruce Hamilton


Tours R Us

Why sharing and teaching are the best ways to learn

Published: Wednesday, November 13, 2019 - 13:01

After being recognized in 1990 by the Shingo Prize, my plant became an overnight hot spot for benchmarking. Hardly a week went by when there was not a visit from a distinguished visitor, Fortune 500 company, professional organization, or college class. Initially, we accepted the visits because of the good publicity for the company; good news sells products.

But very quickly we discovered that the process of sharing our continuous improvement story had a powerful effect on our employee and management commitment to lean. This was not an outcome that I had anticipated.

Sharing with visitors encouraged us to learn more; quoting a Latin maxim, docendo discimus, the best way to learn is to teach. Anticipating a tour, employees were motivated to polish their efforts, to find one more before-and-after anecdote about changeovers or mistake-proofing or kanban or some clever idea they had implemented to make the job easier. Front-line workers, many of whom had never previously been asked about their work, spoke eloquently about reducing waste and creating value. It was exciting for them to share knowledge and to be recognized for their grasps of topics that still eluded many of our visitors.

“The engagement of your employees is an inspiration to me,” noted a visitor from a well-known automotive manufacturer. “So many good ideas; how did this happen?”  There was no single answer to that question.

One day, after a double-decker bus carrying students and faculty from a well-known business school pulled out of our parking lot, an employee from our welding department commented, “You know, Bruce, it’s fun having these tours and being able to tell our story to visitors, but how about holding a tour for our own employees?”

He continued, “I’ve been building parts for our assembly department for many years but have never really seen how those parts are used.”

The efficacy of this idea hit me instantly. It was an enormous missed opportunity. Shortly thereafter, the first of many employee tours was scheduled. Long before the terms “value stream” or yokoten ever became part of the lean lexicon, we were practicing and gaining the benefits. In the process, departmental boundaries were blurred, and many more ideas stimulated and shared from the opportunity to see the whole rather than just the parts.

A long-time employee commented to me after an employee tour, “We’re ‘Tours R Us.’ It’s a good thing.”

What are you doing to remove the silos and stimulate idea sharing in your organization?


About The Author

Bruce Hamilton’s picture

Bruce Hamilton

Bruce Hamilton, president of the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership (GBMP), brings hands-on experience as a manager, teacher, and change agent. Prior to GBMP, Hamilton led efforts to transform United Electric Controls Co.’s production from a traditional batch factory to a single-piece-flow environment that has become an international showcase. Hamilton has spoken internationally on lean manufacturing, employee involvement, continuous improvement, and implementing change; and he has contributed to numerous texts ranging from visual control to variety reduction. Hamilton’s blog, Old Lean Dude, is an on-going reflection on lean philosophy and practices with an emphasis on keeping good jobs close to home.