Bill Peterson is a lean consultant and practitioner and creator of the workshops Lean Applied to Business Processes, Disciplines of Speed, and Lead Smarter. He began developing his approach to Lean methodology during a 26-year career with Delta’s TechOps Division. While focused primarily on operational processes, he saw firsthand that the productivity and job satisfaction of frontline workers was often constrained by the impact of processes in other areas such as HR, purchasing, engineering, and sales/marketing. This awareness put him at the forefront of one of today’s most important trends: applying Lean to business processes. He teaches in the University of Tennessee’s Department of Graduate and Executive Education.
This central tenet of operations for the U. S. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center was recently established by its Commander, Lieutenant General C.D. Moore, and it captures in just three simple words a universal goal: the need to reduce lead times and cost while ensuring the work is done right the first time. But this goal often creates tension between managers and the work force, especially when safety is at stake.
This was my dilemma as a manager in the ‘90s at an aircraft component repair shop, when my constant challenge was to get components repaired and placed back into stock better, cheaper, and faster. As I communicated this goal to my department, my technicians were adamant about one thing. They would not compromise safety or their livelihood by expediting any process.
And I couldn’t blame them. I was licensed, too—I could absolutely relate. In industries where there is a safety factor for technicians in the execution of tasks, there is a whole different dimension of danger to compromising safety and compliance. And as a manager, I would of course be held accountable for any safety or compliance issues.
But I had a process improvement initiative to implement, and I was getting nowhere. I needed to be able to define how to execute the Speed with Discipline concept in a way that satisfied my conscience and that would alleviate the technicians’ concerns.
I debated about speed versus discipline in my head over and over again, but I continued to spin my wheels until I found a way to articulate, in my own words, how to reconcile the challenge with my own supervisory responsibilities. I needed a compass to guide me for whatever hot requirement arose, be it a flavor-of-the-month request or pressures from my superiors, technicians, inspectors, auditors, or finance department.
I decided that a list of five priorities, in order of importance, would be my compass regardless of the situation.