Last July, I had the privilege
of running a creativity workshop in Detroit for a group
of managers from Technicolor, a Thomson Digital Media Solutions
business. While I was speaking, I was confronted by Gary
Smuda, director of duplication services in Livonia, Michigan,
for Technicolor, who said, "Norman, I've been listening
for the past two hours, and I haven't heard anything new!"
At first, I was shocked but somehow held my composure
and replied: "Gary, you're absolutely correct. There's
nothing new here, but you aren't doing it. You aren't empowering
your employees to be part of the creative process."
As you will see from the following interview, Smuda
took up the challenge and has since implemented one of the
most successful creative idea programs in America. He calls
Technicolor's improvement process, Quick and Easy Kaizen
Bodek: What is your professional background?
Smuda: I've been with Technicolor for
20 years. I actually started in the video business with
CBS Fox Video in 1983 and came along with the furniture
when Technicolor acquired the Livonia Plant in 1987. I've
worked as a tape loading supervisor, duplication supervisor
and production scheduler, and eventually became the production
manager at the Livonia plant. In 1993, I was sent to the
Technicolor plant in the Netherlands to oversee duplication,
packaging and distribution operations as part of a transition
team. After returning to the United States, I was promoted
to director of duplication services in 1996. Just prior
to my assignment with Technicolor, I worked for Ford Motor
Co. and Toys"R"Us Inc. and served in the U.S.
Army as a combat engineer.
Bodek: What does your group do?
Smuda: We duplicate videocassettes for
three of the largest motion picture studios and have, since
1987, produced more than 1.7 billion videos here in the
Bodek: Please explain the importance
of your Quick and Easy Kaizen TIPs process and what it's
done for your employees, for Technicolor and for you personally.
Smuda: At first I was very skeptical of
all this. In fact, I asked you during the initial workshop,
"What's new here?" At the time of your visit,
we were into the third year of our lean journey, emulating
the Toyota Production System.
One of the major elements of the Toyota Production System
is the connection with employees via the company's suggestion
program. About six months before your visit, we implemented
the Technicolor Improvement Program (TIP) and were soliciting
suggestions from our employees. We weren't very successful
with our program, and I was frustrated with it. But, before
the end of that first day with you, a light flickered on
and two strong messages came through from your Quick and
Easy Kaizen training: one was to ask the operators what
they could do to make their jobs easier. The other was to
do everything possible to make the suggester the implementer.
If it was beyond the suggester's scope, then make him or
her part of the implementation team.
Basically, Quick and Easy Kaizen supercharged our implementation
program to help us attain our goal of two written suggestions
from each of our employees per month.
Earlier this year, I became the Michigan "Cost Killer"--responsible,
at my site in Livonia and the other two sites in Michigan,
for capturing cost-killing ideas to reduce our indirect
labor cost and nonproduction purchases. Through the TIP
program we get many suggestions. In fact, just today I have
already gone through 237 TIPs. I spent my whole day going
through these TIPs; 65 percent of them have already been
implemented, and another 18 percent of them are in the process
of being implemented. The rest either need to be bumped
up to a higher level or aren't feasible suggestions.
We do try to attach cost savings to some of the suggestions
we receive. For example, today I looked at one about recycling
office supplies and file folders. We have a standard form
we use, called a TIP form, and someone suggested that we
just take used paper, flip it over and copy the TIP forms
on the back. Some of the TIPs I'm looking at right now are
on the back of recycled paper. It's a simple idea that gets
our employees to pitch in and help save us money. Our TIP
cost savings range from $50 to $200 all the way up to $15,000.
And they all add up. TIP has been an enormous boost in helping
to reduce our costs and requires very little investment.
This system encourages people to participate in improvement
activities, to be involved, and enables management to be
better connected with their employees.
Technicolor supervisors and managers, including myself,
walk around the factory with these TIP forms in our back
pocket. During conversations with employees, we write down
their ideas and make sure that they get credit for the TIP.
One of our more clever supervisors took up the task of increasing
our recycling rates. In a group meeting, he held up a packet
of everyday office items and said: "How can we recycle
this? Remember, every idea you give me is a TIP." He
received 30 ideas at that meeting.
Bodek: That's wonderful. What does
it do for you personally in your job?
Smuda: When we had our first meeting,
I was really skeptical about it. I was skeptical about the
idea of actually receiving any TIPs. I was also very concerned
about how we would handle the TIPs once we began receiving
them. So initially, to be truthful, I was both skeptical
and nervous, but then those two lights went on in my head.
Now, by getting the suggester involved in the implementation
process, I'm interacting with more of my employees. It's
helping us to overcome the "great management divide"
and opening up other lines of communication between myself
and the folks who might have been somewhat nervous about
approaching senior management. Seeing ideas come to fruition
gives me a great sense of accomplishment, a sense of pride
in seeing employees receive credit for their hard work and
efforts, and it helps me to make a better connection with
my employees, which, in turn, makes this a better place
to work for us all.
Bodek: How does it work?
Smuda: Typically, we'll get a written
suggestion, which is first given to the employee's supervisor.
The supervisor then reviews it with the employee, and between
the supervisor, the employee and the work group, they're
empowered to immediately implement it. This happens between
50 to 60 percent of the time. If it requires aid or support
from outside of the group, the supervisor will solicit help
from the next level of management. Nevertheless, I would
say at least 50 percent of the suggestions are implemented
within 48 hours of receipt of the suggestion.
Bodek: Does an idea that's not immediately
implemented create a burden on you or your managers?
Smuda: We do have meetings to go over
any ideas that are out of our immediate reach. Although
there is some management time involved, it's not at all
burdensome. In fact, it's one of the easier things to manage.
We extract a lot of good out of this program, so we view
it as a small bit of time that's well spent.
Bodek: Who participates?
Smuda: Everybody, including senior management
officials. Everyone has a goal of submitting at least two
improvement ideas per month. We also track and post our
results for everyone to see.
Bodek: What advice would you have for other
managers who have yet to discover the power of this system?
Smuda: Simply ask employees, "What
can you do in your workspace to make your job easier?"
I believe it was that one question that lit the fire and
provided a way to connect with employees. Telling employees
that this process was going to make their jobs easier allowed
us to make quick progress.
When employees come up with a suggestion, you must act
fast to get it implemented. That's the key to prove that
you are listening to them and you care. Once employees start
to see management acting on suggestions, the suggestions
become even more thoughtful because now they're invested
in the implementation process.
Another concern for managers might be: "What do we
do if we get 2,000 suggestions each month? I can't implement
them all." Managers with a large number of employees
reporting to them are especially nervous. But empowering
employee teams to implement the improvement idea removes
the burden from the manager. Unfortunately, empowering employees
to be problem solvers is one of the most neglected areas
of lean management. Most of us come from past corporate
cultures in which managers were the only firemen. Now I
have 450 firefighters, and they aren't coming to my door
saying, "We have a problem." Instead, they're
knocking on my door and saying, "This is how we fixed
this problem," which is awesome.
The hardest part of any kind of change is just getting
started. Once you get over the initial hump, then it's smooth
sailing. That's how it was for us with TIPs initially, but
now it's part of our everyday work environment and culture,
so it's becoming second nature.
Bodek: Are there any rewards given to those
who make suggestions?
Smuda: Yes, we have several ways of rewarding
employees for their TIPs: We have a Bravo award system in
which we nominate TIP suggesters to receive a special gift.
For suggestions that provide exceptional cost savings, there's
a special monetary bonus awarded, and supervisors can award
"Technicolor bucks" to employees as a thank you
for a special idea.
Bodek: What effect has this program had on
quality in your plant?
Smuda: Many suggestions are process-related,
which, in turn, improve the quality of our products. A big
focus for us has been eliminating damage to the product
while it's inside our plant. Some of these improvements
have included eliminating steps whereby a product could
potentially be damaged because of frequent movement, improving
conveyors and material-handling operations, and designing
a new cart for the movement of bulk videotape. Thanks to
TIPs, we have virtually eliminated the problem of videotape
pancakes becoming damaged by falling on the floor--just
by using the new cart design that resulted from a TIP.
The interview was conducted by Norman Bodek, president
of PCS Inc. and the author of The Idea Generator: Quick
and Easy Kaizen (PCS Press, 2001). Letters to the editor
regarding this article can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.