A Lesson in Lean: Where There is Struggle, There is Waste

Scott Dieckgraefe Insight

Guest Author: Doug Eisenhart, EVP, Cambridge Air Solutions

Roughly six years ago, I first learned of our production team’s trip to Fastcap, a Washington State manufacturing company that had changed the way they operate their business.   Abandoning traditional lean tool sets, Fastcap boiled lean manufacturing down into a simple to understand philosophy.  They simply said, “fix what bugs you.”  Our production leaders came back from that learning and exposure trip and I would characterize their energy as ON FIRE.  They could see real momentum and progress for their team’s in the future if everyone was engaged every day to fix what bugged them and were empowered to make the changes necessary to do their work more efficiently, more easily and more brilliantly.   Rather than waiting to be told what to do, our production team embarked on a path that would attract close to 4,000 visitors from across the globe to Cambridge Air Solutions since 2016.

Humility was clearly the first step in our journey.  We had to admit that things may not have been as great as we would have liked them to be and that there would always be room for improvements to even the most brilliant ideas.   A statement arose from the production team leaders, “the first improvement is often times not the best improvement, but it is the most important one.”  Letting go of falling in love with your own improvement ideas takes humility.   Recognizing that those around us have genius to offer the organization, the team or the process takes humility.  Knowing that what you start will be built upon takes humility.  Cambridge started our journey like Fastcap recommended.   We started in the bathroom.  Eliminating our cleaning services, the Cambridge team volunteered to care for our own house as a signal that we would serve one another humbly.  Our owner, our President and our entire leadership team cleans toilets.

What has transpired over the last five years here at Cambridge is nothing short of spectacular.  We spend time learning how to see waste.  We go and see what is happening at the jobsite, at the plant process or function and we watch.  Each day the entire organization spends 30 minutes after our all company morning meeting (a unique experience worth seeing) making improvements to their work area or job functions.   We encourage sharing those improvements as well through short 1 min videos that are played each morning from the submitted videos.  I believe we have close to 5,700 video improvements that have been shared since we began the work.   In the first two years, these processes cut nearly forty percent of the cycle time required to build a unit.   While this wasn’t the objective, it was a lagging indicator that eliminating waste in every person’s role delivered massive impact.  The small 2-second improvements that made have a far reaching impact on our business and our ability to deliver quality, safely and on time for the benefit of the customer. More importantly, our work became more fulfilling every day. 

See waste.  Eliminate waste.  Make a video.  This is our mantra in the morning meeting.   It encourages us all to learn to see the wastes in our processes, our products, our designs, our communications, our meetings and reaches into our homes in our personal lives.  Lean is about caring for those around us, making their lives easier with less struggle, freeing up time to do more brilliant things we are passionate about at home and at work.  We are still on the lean journey at Cambridge, inventing new things daily, improving everything all the time and wrestling with real struggles and obstacles that prevent flow across many functional areas of our work lives.  Recognizing waste has become easier…whenever there exist struggle, pain, frustration, lack of progress, etc., waste is present. 

My final thought is that I’m grateful for the many companies that have welcomed us into their factories and into their offices to share the things that they are working on.  We have visited many and many have visited us, and in this spirit of sharing great ideas company to company, we have been blessed with new ideas and processes.   Come see us and ask us anything.   I know we will be better as we learn about new ideas.

Guest Author: Doug Eisenhart, EVP of Sales, Marketing & Service, Cambridge Air Solutions

Cambridge Air Solutions is dedicated to providing better HVAC solutions for your indoor environment. Their products deliver comfort and improved indoor air quality that increases productivity, enhances recruitment capabilities and improves retention of the very people committed to the success of your organization – all while reducing your overall energy footprint.

Whether in new construction or existing facility retrofits, Cambridge’s designing, manufacturing and testing processes ensure that each HVAC system is certified safe with unsurpassed product quality. Today more than 37,000 system installations have been completed using Cambridge equipment and 2.5 billion square feet of buildings have been affected positively. Cambridge celebrates its customers’ commitment to an improved working environment for people on the factory or warehouse floor.