By Norbert Majerus
AME Keynoter and Author, Goodyear R&D Lean Champion, author of Lean-Driven Innovation.1
Goodyear has been applying lean principles to the Global Innovation Center in Akron, Ohio, for more than a decade. When we applied for the 2016 AME Excellence Award for this location, we did not have much time. Unlike many sites that spend a lot of time and effort trying to get ready, when we were nominated we simply wrote up what we were doing. Nor did we prepare for the AME assessment — we simply welcomed the group of AME assessors to Akron, and our General Director Jon Bellissimo instructed them to find as many opportunities as possible.
Goodyear is, of course, extremely proud to receive the external recognition that the AME Excellence honor provides. We are joining a list of very good companies that are being recognized this year and those that have previously received the award. It is an endorsement to all within our organization that we are on the right track and that our approach is sound. In fact, the assessors did not feel that our submission did justice to what we had accomplished. They were particularly impressed with our visual planning, flow management, resource management, use of standardization (engineer endorsement and adherence to standard work), collaboration across the company, and our coordinated innovation structure (e.g., innovation creation process, technology creation process, and product creation process).
Like most organizations that garner this recognition, we have worked very hard to improve — for more than 10 years we’ve been on our lean journey. I sometimes hear that applying for an award like this is a lot of work. It is, and you need to start building the case for it long before the decision is made to apply. Often companies rapidly exhaust substantial effort and resources in the application process and then totally deflate when they are done, taking time to rest; some of them forget to start back up. In our case, we have no intention of letting up because we have 10 pages of opportunities identified by the assessors that will focus our improvement work. Although we always saw the award as fodder for further improvements, seeing all the identified opportunities I now wonder how we deserved this award in the first place.
For example, the AME assessors noted that we have a robust process to manage product development and have embedded best practices with standard work (e.g., visual planning of iterations, executing work via kanban cards), but other types of projects and major initiatives have not seen the same degree of process, discipline, and rigor. In addition, our application of hoshin kanri and catchball could be more direct and transparent (we take too many freedoms and assume too much when passing information up and down the organization) and we must learn to also pass the ball upward. As our lean champion in R&D, I am happy to have these clear targets to pursue.
One assessor said he was first surprised that we started lean in the creative realm of product development. But he then considered that maybe R&D is the right place to start — get it right up front, and then walk it down the value stream into manufacturing and distribution. All the work done in product development can help or hurt a company downstream from product development. Today Goodyear has increasingly fewer problems downstream. Projects come in with a good business case to which all functions support, and as a group we confirm the business case as the project moves along. There are fewer surprises in product development or downstream, and, as such, there are fewer wasted resources (knowledge, equipment, labor).
AME assessors also were surprised at our willingness to constantly experiment and improve. “Not invented here” does not exist at Goodyear. We went everywhere in the world and to every type of industry to find and apply leading knowledge and best practices, and we’ve brought countless world experts to Akron to pick their minds and learn what they know. The AME assessment is another example of this.
My biggest surprise came when I started working on the achievement report. I was hoping that the AME assessors were open-minded enough to invent or accept new criteria because I was convinced we did everything totally different in an innovation creation process (compared to manufacturing/production). When I casually discussed this dilemma with Assessor Becky Morgan (Fulcrum Consulting and long term AME volunteer), she recommended that we stick to the AME criteria. We are a manufacturing company, after all, and so I tried to do just that — and to my surprise it worked. We are not that different than many other award recipients, just a little unique in how we applied universal principles to our specific work.
Today we’re happy to accept the AME Excellence trophy, and we will celebrate and have our fun. But then we’ll get back to work, because that is what this is all about — continuous improvement.
1. Norbert Majerus, Lean-Driven Innovation: Powering Product Development at The Tire & Rubber Company, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, 2015.