Conquering the Chaos: Generating Systems & Sustaining Change
Creating lasting change in manufacturing can be a daunting task. With the right strategies, it’s possible. But — you have to prioritize it.
In this episode, we explore how to drive impactful change in factories and make that change stick
This week, Jaime Urquidi, Global Head of Customer Solutions at Parsable, discusses his experience in conquering chaos within the manufacturing industry. Jaime has had an impressive career, with highlights including leading multi-site teams that have made a significant impact in the manufacturing space. Jaime also shares how enacting change to your teams can be a challenge but a rewarding one for everyone with the right strategies.
Join as we discuss:
- Jaime’s own highlights (and lowlights) as a factory director
- Lessons learned from all of those experiences
- Making & sustaining change
- Short-term sacrifices for long term gain & ROI
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Check out the episode transcript below:
Josh Santo: Coming up on Conquering Chaos.
Jaime Urquidi: I learned the power of a structured approach to solving problems, even if you fail because that way, you can go back and learn. The other one is that, hey, there’s no way that you know everything, and you can solve everything. Something that I learned is that you always have to be generating systems and processes in order to drive change and make that change stick.
Josh: On this episode of Conquering Chaos, my good friend and manufacturing mentor Jaime Urquidi, joins us to share stories and lessons learned throughout his career as a manufacturing professional. Now, what I love about this conversation with Jaime and candidly, every single conversation with him, really, it’s the authenticity, the truthfulness, the empathy that comes through in each candid story of notable wins, losses, and lessons learned that humbled him throughout his journey from line manager to factory director.
I asked Jaime to share his stories because he and I are starting a new type of episode here on Conquering Chaos. Together, we’ll be examining a variety of topics ranging from people, process, and technology across all aspects of manufacturing and supply chain operations. Listen to this episode to get insight into why we’ve selected Jaime to be our go-to expert for this exciting new episode format of Conquering Chaos.
Hi, Jaime. Thanks so much for being here. Welcome to Conquering Chaos.
Jaime: Hi, Josh. It’s great to have another one of these sessions with you. My first Conquering Chaos, but we had many different covers conversations in line to share with our customers in the market.
Josh: We absolutely have plenty of conversations. You’ve been super influential on me on just helping me better understand what day-to-day life is like at manufacturers, and that was before I actually got to go and spend time with these manufacturers because I met you pretty early here at my career in Parsable. You were the factory director at Unilever, and you were actually responsible for implementing Parsable’s Connected Worker at your sites.
To your point, since then, we’ve traveled the world together, spreading the message, working with manufacturers to generate and sustain change at scale worldwide Multisites. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind and through all of that have been early mornings, late nights, and just deep conversations between you and I and some crazy stories. In fact, if you remember, that one Uber driver who kept telling us about his movie and The Secret Code, if you figured it out, he would give you a million dollars.
Jaime: Yes, it was a crazy story. We were in New Jersey and we were traveling between the plant and the hotel. Then, he started telling us about this conspiracy theory and the movie he was making. It was just crazy times but yes, a lot of those kind of stories.
Josh: Yes. Sad to say, we did not figure out the riddle so we did not win the million dollars.
Jaime: That’s why we’re still here working at Parsable.
Josh: That’s why we are working men, that’s for sure. Jaime, your background is manufacturing. I’d love to hear it from you how did it all get started? What got you into manufacturing?
Jaime: You know what, Josh? I probably never told you this one but I was studying mechanical engineering in Mexico City. Okay. A friend of mine that was studying chemical engineering, actually. He was in an intern program for Procter & Gamble. He told me and a buddy, “Hey, would you like to join this? It’s in six semesters, so it’s a good time. You start working and exposing yourself to a job in the real world and all that.” We said, “Yes, why not? Let’s do that.” I started the process and then got hired as an intern in a bar soap factory for in Mexico City that we produce bar soaps for all Latin America.
Then after a while, actually, we brought in the production from a factory in Europe and we started distributing bar soaps all over the world. We were distributing for Latin America, for Japan, which is a totally very interesting story on the quality standards in Japan to the Middle East. I learned a little bit of the Arabic writing because I was in new products and also all of Europe. It was a very simple way to jump into this manufacturing world, but it was a world full of surprises and of very proud moments. I’m happy that I had that conversation with my friends at that time.
Josh: Sounds like it. What a whirlwind romance with an industry starting with working with a bar soap factory. One of the things I love about manufacturing just in general is these are the goods that consumers, that people worldwide rely on. Bar soap is a classic example. It might not be something that you think of as innovative and groundbreaking, but if you go a couple of days without your soap, it’s going to be pretty obvious to the people in your life, especially in our culture here.
I think that’s cool. It sounds like a really great whirlwind and intro into the industry. You mentioned there were a lot of moments of pride of things that really stood out and resonated with you. You’ve had a very successful career in manufacturing. I’d love it if you could talk with us about the top three highlights of your career as a manufacturer.
Jaime: Great question, Josh. I think one of the most rewarding parts of my career is, or that you could have access in manufacturing, for my view and my own experience, is that you could have like very challenging projects, but then you can see the reality. When I was making bars soaps at the beginning of my career, I was a new initiative supervisor, though I was in charge of bringing the formulas that R&D and marketing came up with that innovation, and then developed those projects.
I was able to take an idea and take it all the way through the pilot phase into the scaling in the manufacturing plant and all the way to the market in order to get a new blue bar soap that we developed for Mexico. Within all that project, a lot of things happened, some goods, some bad, some terrible that you think that it’s going to be the end of the world but at the end, when you go to the market and you just go through the aisles in a supermarket and you see your product there on the shelf and people choosing from it, it’s just super reward. I think that’s one of the biggest ones.
Josh: That’s a great one because that idea of going from an idea to the reality, that’s the difference maker because tons of people have ideas. I’ll tell you someday about the time that I thought when I was a child that I invented rollerblades but what it really takes is someone who actually builds it and actually makes it. I think that’s such a cool thing to call out because it’s one of the things that stands out about manufacturing is you’re going from idea to concept to pilot, to getting this up and running and meeting the demand of the customers in the market that you’re seeking to serve. That’s a cool one. You were going to say, what your next one was.
Jaime: Another one is, I think that one of the biggest things that I’ve learned and one of the things that have brought more gratefulness into my life, professionally and also personally, is being able to work with large amounts of people, with big teams. I had the opportunity to be an individual contributor then have a team of six people, teams of 30 people in a shift, all the way to leading an operation of over 1500 people.
Just having that experience of, and realizing that you can impact the way that this large amount of people spend 30% of their life because that’s what you spend in work at least. Also, that you can just leave a mark in their lives, and then if you see them like five, 10 years after that, they still remember some of the things that you said or that you did. It’s just super rewarding. That’s I think another huge highlight, the impact that you can make on a lot of people.
Josh: That’s a very powerful one as well. It speaks to the fact that you are at heart a leader because every interaction I’ve had with you, as well as I’ve observed with your team, your peers, colleagues, our customers here at Parsable prospective customers, you always take it with this service-based approach, the servant leadership of how can I serve you? How can I help you? How can I empower your individual life? How can I help you get to your goals? I’m not surprised to hear that that’s a highlight of you, because that’s exactly what I expect. You are a leader by nature and focusing on people, impacting people. That’s what good leaders do.
Jaime: Thank you, Josh. The third one, you asked me for three. The third one is that it’s just a very dynamic world and I had the chance to go from bar soaps to pet food, to the assembly of motors and gearboxes, all the way to making the most famous soft ring in the world and all the way to making ice cream, mayonnaise, tea distribution. The dynamic and what I learned from the factories, the processes, the companies, and everything that I was exposed to, I think that it has been super rewarding. Now, on the other side, on the software side that is still connected with all that, it’s been a great learning process. It’s brought a lot of proud moments. Yes, I’m happy for that.
Josh: Dynamic is such a great word. We were talking with another of our colleagues earlier today within a customer event that we were holding, and one of the ideas that came up was serving manufacturers who are producing products that are so unique and unrelated to one another. You mentioned bar soap, pet food, gear assembly, ice cream, mayonnaise, some of the other manufacturers that we work with make flying cars, for example. That was a pretty impressive one. One of the ones that came up today was robotic pizza makers along with robotic ovens in pizza delivery trucks. It’s crazy what people are able to create and all of the different products that the industry is responsible for bringing to people’s everyday lives.
Jaime: Indeed, Josh. The other impressive part of that is not only the products that they make but also the creativity that goes in how they make them. Just going into a plant and then understanding how you dip an ice cream bar into a chocolate bin, or how do you wrap a bar soap, or how do you cook a can of pet food. All those things, and how engineers have developed solutions for those super complex problems, and how they have evolved from when they were done by hand until today, the level of automation that we have, for me, it’s something that is just out of this world.
Josh: Is mind-boggling, and in some cases, it’s hypnotic. I’ve gone to plenty of sites, in particular, I can think of a health and beauty manufacturer where I couldn’t help but just watch and be mesmerized by how this machine would pick up lotion at interval, and it almost looked like there was no order to how the lotion was coming on the conveyor belt, but it was picking it and placing it faster than I could almost comprehend. It looked like stop motion for a second. It’s just hypnotic. Dynamic’s such a great term for that.
The creativity, it’s really a testament to human engineering problem-solving skills, because in the day-to-day things, you’ve got people who are having to really figure out what do I need to do to give back on track, what do I need to do to make sure that we’re producing the product at the right spec, at low cost meeting our quality standards. Great. Well, look, top three highlights are always great to celebrate and hear about. I’d love if you could be vulnerable with us for a second and share with us what were some of the lowlights that you encountered.
Jaime: Now you’re putting me on the spot, Josh. No, it’s all right. Within that dynamic that we talked about and all that technology, and that, I always felt, and I felt responsible of making the most out of that evolution that technology and those processes, that people and everything that needs to happen in order to produce something from raw materials all the way to packaged materials. Also, there’s a lot of complexity, variability, and a lot of things that are not in your control. One of the things that took me a while to understand and really have it sink into me, is that you need to be very humble that there are things that are not in your control and that you have to learn from what happened.
That complexity and just being an engineer and just trying to succeed and be the best and be number one, you always try to control everything and make sure that everything goes right. When something doesn’t go right, I think that the key thing that I learned that was one of the toughest lessons that I had, is that I had to really be humble and really acknowledge where I could have done things differently and then grow from that. It takes a couple of blows and it takes a lot of internal work, and self-awareness to deal with that.
Josh: It sounds like you encountered a few moments where you felt like what you were trying to do, you ultimately didn’t succeed or for lack of a better word, failed, and it took you some time to really get on board with this idea of there’s only so much that you can control. Was there any defining moment that led to you finally saying, “I have to accept the things I cannot change and change the things I can and really focus on knowing the difference?”
Jaime: We were running a new product for the bar soap plan, and that was in new initiatives. I had this project that we had to generate a new idea. I’m not going to disclose the details, but anyway, I mean, probably I can because it’s been a long time, but anyway. I was making a new type of bar soap. I was sure that we have the technical knowledge, the equipment, and everything we needed to make it happen.
I spent in the pilot plant, in the Mexico City plant, probably, I don’t know, 300 hours working on changing formulations, changing the speed of the machines, changing the pressure, changing all the variables in order to make this new bar soap work. I never got it. I just didn’t get it. I was never able to get it. I got halfway through the final product, but it was not acceptable.
I had to walk up to my boss and say, “Hey, you know what? I can’t do it. I’ve tried this, this, and that. I mean, it’s just too hard. We need either to invest in an equipment or something.” At the end, what I ended up doing is we hired a consultant and then he helped us get through it. I had to bite my pride and say, “Hey, I mean, I’m an expert in bar soap, so know what I’m doing, I have the best equipment, I work at the best bar soap company in the world. We make the biggest volume in the world and everything.” Then just failed miserably but learn from the mistakes.
One of the good things that I learned in that process was that when we brought in the consultant, the way that me and my team had structured the process on how we were failing or how we were deciding our experiments was super instrumental in order to make us make the right solution and then fix the things that we couldn’t get to the solution. Two things here. One of them is that I learned the power of structured approach to solving problems, even if you fail, because that way you can go back and learn.
The other one is that, hey, there’s no way that you know everything and you can solve everything, and just going back to my company and saying, “I cannot do it and we need to bring an expert and we need to increase the cost of the development of this product,” was something that was not a comfortable conversation. Also, it made me feel humble that, “Hey, I tried, I learned, I did all I could, now it’s time to bring someone that is a little bit more experienced or a lot more experienced than I was.”
Josh: I appreciate that. The fact that you experienced a lowlight, you experienced what some might consider a failure and you were able to look at it, examine it, and identify how you could learn and improve and be better, not just as a manufacturing professional, but what you’re talking about, like being humble, that’s a very needed human trait as well. It’s a tough lesson that we all inevitably learn at some point because there’s always somebody who’s a little bit better.
There’s always going to be a new way of doing things and that’s going to be a little uncomfortable. You mentioned pride, you mentioned some ego pops up, it happens. I deal with it as well. Everyone listening deals with the ego popping up. To be able to say, “You know what? I didn’t succeed the way that I wanted to in that moment, but here’s what I learned and that’s going to set me up to succeed in the future,” because that’s what it’s all about. That’s life. That’s a great one. Any other things come to mind when you think of lowlights?
Jaime: Yes, just to close that one up, one of the things that somebody told me is that the most important thing is not to know the answer but have the phone number of the person that knows it. That was a very powerful closing point. From there on, I try to pull in all the resources I can in order to solve the challenges that I’m facing and I do it all the way to now.
Josh: What’s funny is that same strategy of having the phone number to the person that has the answer, that is the winning strategy for who wants to be a Millionaire, the game show. FYI, some principles apply not just to manufacturing, but to life in general.
Jaime: Exactly. Then you were asking me of another example. I talked about the opportunity that I’ve had to work with big teams and working with a lot of people in different shapes and forms and in different roles and different responsibilities and different hurricanes. Another one of the toughest things that I’ve faced in my career, and I’m sure that a lot of people that are listening have faced it is reorgs based on financial hardship.
One of the things, as I said, people are one of the most important things and how can I impact and influence their lives? When you have to have those tough conversations, it’s always a challenge. Sadly, I’ve had to do it a couple times during my career. These things happen and there are cycles in the economy and cycles in the organizations and different needs and requirements.
That one was also something that really impacted me. From there, one of the approaches that I take when I’m facing into those situations, I think that the people that are staying in the organization that didn’t get impacted with that reorg, I think that they have a responsibility to make it up for the people that are doing the bigger sacrifice. When you stay, you have to do a double effort so that you can make it happen and make the company successful, or the product successful, or what you’re doing successful. Because a lot of people sacrificed a lot of things during that process. That was another very impactful thing and a very big learning experience in my life.
Josh: Those are very hard conversations. How did you approach them both for the employees who were, unfortunately, impacted by the reorganization and the employees who stayed, who part of the condition of staying is we need you to work twice as hard?
Jaime: The most important thing is just to be honest, be true, and listen. Some of these decisions are out of your control, some of them are in your control. Just be honest and make it just like a worthwhile moment. Just in a way to explain it. Make it something that you’re putting the person that you’re talking to in the center of the conversation and make it in a very responsible and very–
Again, I’m going to go back to the humble right description, but you need to be empathetic, humble and it’s not easy. It’s never easy and sometimes it’s harder. I think that if you approach it with authenticity, with the truth, and with empathy, I think that it makes things better for the whole process.
Josh: I think authenticity, truth, and empathy. I think that’s what we all need in our day-to-day lives. Great. Do you have one more for us?
Jaime: Another one that is super complicated and thank God I never had any bad accidents in my operations but the safety of the people that work in manufacturing is one of the biggest things that you need to be very aware of. As I said, knock on wood, and I never had any big accidents. I always told my teams that if anybody came into the plant and got out–
Everybody that went into the plant and left at the end of the shift, just more tired than what they came in because they worked hard. That was a successful day. Everything, anything above that, anything like a broken nail, a twisted ankle, whatever, us as an organization had failed miserably. You need to get out of your work shift the same way you came in, just a little bit more tired and more proud because you did a good job. That was something that I just repeated day in and day out to me, to my teams and everything. I faced some safety problems. We had to manage them. That was another very, very tough lesson to learn.
Josh: Yes, it takes work constant vigilance, and it’s everyone’s responsibility.
Jaime: It’s a second. We are always making decisions and we are always exposed to the right decision or the wrong decision. I always say that we need to help people make the right decisions more times and more often than the other.
Josh: That’s what it’s all about, making the right decisions at the right time, taking the right action. Well, cool. Well, I appreciate your candid responses behind what were some of the top highlights as well as lowlights from your experience as a manufacturer. Now looking at your resume and listening to some of the stories you told so far and how you got into manufacturing and things that you loved and enjoyed.
It’s clear that you held a number of different roles. You were a line manager at one point, production manager, supply chain manager, operations manager, plant manager, and factory director. I’d like to ask you a little bit about some of your roles. Thinking back about your time as a production manager, putting yourself back into that mindset wherever Jaime was, at whatever age Jaime was, what was the biggest headache you had to deal with and how did you improve it?
Jaime: One of the things that were over and over coming up is that dynamic in the operational processes really focuses you, when you’re a production manager, into those seconds, minutes, half hours of execution. You get so embedded into the whirlwind of the day-to-day and the back-to-back operations that you don’t have a lot of time to focus and really solve things. There were a lot of things that kept happening to us over and over. That was one of the things that generated a lot of frustration in me when I was performing those roles. Just making the same mistakes over and over. You fail once, shame on them, you fail twice, shame on you.
Josh: The fact that it’s so go, go, go, that you don’t have the time and the space that you need to really critically examine what is going to make the day a little bit easier. Because again, it’s go, go, go, you got to produce. That’s definitely hard to manage and work with. Now, as a plant manager, after you made that several moves, and eventually became a plant manager, how did your headache in this case evolve? Was it similar difficulties? Was it just on a different scale? Was it completely different?
Jaime: It changes. Because then you pass on that headache to your production manager. [laughs] Then you have to deal with more headaches in a different dynamic. I think that just the interaction between the different departments and the positive tension that you have to create in order to make things happen within a complex operation, is one of the things that are more mentally challenging.
Because you have a conflict and it’s a good conflict. That’s why I said a positive tension between production, maintenance, quality, safety. All the different departments, they have common goals, but conflicting metrics that they need to balance. As a plant manager, I had to make sure that I tended to all these needs but with the end goal in mind, which is the factories objectives.
Having that, making sure that that interaction happens and that you generate productive conversations within your teams. There’s going to be conflict and there’s going be frustration, there’s going to be success, and there’s going to be failure again but how you make that a team dynamic? You can create a common mindset and that magic on that clicking team that generates all those things with all the complexities that they have, that was one of the biggest headaches that I had when I was running a factory.
Josh: Yes because you got to balance all sorts of assets, what’s best for the business, what’s going to satisfy some of the people, there’s elements of politics that may come into play, as well. I remember speaking with one plant manager, I’m sorry, he was on track to be a plant manager, but he told me candidly, he didn’t want to be a plant manager, because he didn’t want to deal with some of the corporate politics that he knew he would be stepping into.
I can imagine the headaches definitely involve trying to satisfy so many different stakeholders. Now, what I can’t imagine is how that headache evolves as a factory director of multiple sites, talk to us about some of the chaos that you had to conquer, as a factory director for multiple sites.
Jaime: I’m going to say that, again, you just leave those headaches to your then managers and then you have a different set. The politics, I think that’s when the real politics kick in, because then you have a bigger interaction with marketing, with sales, with finance, with supply chain, with the teams that are planning and distribution and customer service. safety corporate quality, and all those things, that you have a lot of external stakeholders that you need to manage, but also, maintain that balance internally, and just protect your team so they have enough space to be successful and then learn during those successes and failures.
As you have different roles with a bigger scope, the other big challenge and the other big headache is that you have less control, because you’re doing less in a way. You have more responsibility, but you have less control. What I learned from that is that now, at the beginning you have control, because you’re doing everything that you need, then you start having power, but then you start trading of that power into influence. How you make that change and how you develop that influence on the internal, external, and around your stakeholders, I think it’s the one that is the biggest challenge to be successful in a role like that.
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You started off the conversation about what you loved about manufacturing, which was taking something and making it and that act of actually making it. It’s interesting to me that as you rise up, you get further and further away from the act of making, you’re still tied to making it but now instead of focusing on making the product, you’re having to make people work together so that other people can make the products.
Jaime: You’re not touching it, right?
Josh: You’re not touching it.
Jaime: It’s a very interesting dynamic and you know what? I never lost that– I always miss that being in contact with the floor, so what I used to do is I would just go down and then on a Wednesday night after I finish up my workday, we just go down to the line and then be at the end of the line just packaging product with the operator and talking to them about life or whatever. I really helped me to wind down and just put into perspective what I was doing that it was actually going back to that making things in a tangible way happen.
That was an exercise that I did to just wind down from all that management process that we have to deal with day-to-day, but I just kept that connection to manufacturing.
Josh: That’s great, because a lot of the– it’s no secret that the industry is struggling with recruiting and retaining workers right now and a lot of the manufacturers that I’ve spoken with who are not having retention issues in particular, when you ask them about their day, they start the day and they end the day, talking with people on the manufacturing floor. It’s not necessarily about work, sometimes it’s, “How’s the family doing? What activities are you pursuing? What are you interested in.” Just getting to know them as a person because that drives that sense of belonging, that feeling that a value that’s critical to retaining people.
Jaime: Definitely, it’s just one of the things that I could never trade. I would go to the corporate office and have two meetings with the marketing guys and with the new initiatives, and with R&D, and all those things, and I loved it. I love that interaction, all that but I always had to go back home in a way.
Josh: That’s great. I love that you started out with your discussion around the production manager role, you saw the same mistakes happening frequently, and you just didn’t have the space to do something about it. It’s that sentiment, through multiple conversations that we had with manufacturers that really led to the founding of this podcast, Conquering Chaos.
The goal is to provide the information and the insights that manufacturing leaders can use to conquer the everyday chaos, of making and shipping quality, cost-effective products on time and in full leaders at all levels, by the way, because you don’t have to have a title to be a leader. Now, a lot of times what comes up is this idea that you’re invoking, this idea of constantly putting out fires, I’d love to hear from you, Jaime, how can you sustainably put out these daily fires in manufacturing?
Jaime: One of the most powerful things that I learned that I was exposed to and I’m very thankful for it, is that I was exposed to the Lean Manufacturing Practices WCM, Six Sigma, operational excellence or TPM, and all those. One of the biggest things that I learned from that process, and it’s just a very fundamental difference between the way that we think here in the Western world and how things are done in the east, is that we’re always focused on solving the problem that we have in the short-term.
While in the Eastern philosophies or in eastern culture, and that’s how lean manufacturing is found that is understand the problem, and then jump to a solution. Something that I learned is that you always have to be generating systems and processes in order to drive change and make that change stick.
Josh: Generating systems and processes is something that is pretty common. Having processes, I should say, is very common in manufacturing. In fact, if you don’t have a process, you’ve probably don’t have a repeatable way of producing your product. When you’re talking about continuously generating systems and processes that drive change, what is the difference between what’s typically in place and the types of systems that you’re referring to?
Jaime: I think that there are two main things that affect that. The first one is how the processes are defined and who defines them. A lot of times the processes are defined by a layer in the organization that is not really in touch with the real operation. You might have a very powerful standard operating system, with a lot of procedures and everything that should happen, but then when you put it in place, and you validate that is it what is really happening, you realize that there are a lot of things that happen that you don’t have documented and a lot of things that don’t happen, that you say that should happen that are documented.
That gap is generated, it’s something that is a challenge that doesn’t help you to drive sustainable change because yes, everybody gets trained on the new SOP, everybody starts new again, but then over time you either lose it and it becomes like tribal knowledge because it becomes a word-of-mouth training and generation. Then the process get eroded or just people just go back to the way that they were doing it before.
A very important thing is to understand, as you’re defining your systems and processes, understand your different stakeholders, which are all the way from the operators, the maintenance team, everybody that interacts not only your boss or your quality system or the ISOs, but putting into consideration all the different stakeholders in order to make sure that you are once reflecting the reality. Also, that what you’re generating are value-added operations and value-added activities, and not unconsciously inflicting non-value-added work into the operation.
Josh: I think that’s such an interesting call out. Some of the ideas that you invoked, there were, one, you just said it, reflecting reality is what I expect to be getting done, actually, getting done is what I expect to be getting done, getting done the way it’s supposed to be getting done. That gets to one of the next points you brought up, which is sustaining change.
How do I make sure that these changes that we implement, they don’t just die out after some time, they don’t just leave when the leader who implemented it leaves as well? How do you make sure it sticks around? Then how do you do all of this without adding burdensome, non-value-added activities on the backs of already hardworking, in some cases, with less capacity than is needed individuals within the factory?
Jaime: You know what, Josh? One of the most common things that I’ve seen and that we all do. I did it too, is that we don’t ask the people that are actually doing the work. I did it and one day I presented a plan for an experiment in one of the factories that I was working at. Then I go to my boss and he says, “Hey, and do if this is something that we could do? Have you talked to the operators? Have you talked to the line supervisor?” It’s like, “No, but that’s the way it should work.” It’s like, “Okay, so go back, do it all over.”
I ended up with something totally different because I learned so much because it was something that– What I was proposing, it was actually not feasible. With this, I’m not saying that you need to go with Joe in the end of the line and then just take notes from what he does or she does, and then just put it in the SOP. It’s very important because they are the ones that are really touching the product, touching the process, touching the maintenance.
Sometimes you have some expectations of maintaining work being done in X amount of time. It’s really something that it’s more complex because you don’t take into account the position where the pump is located at, and you just start averaging out things because there are so many things that you need to do, which you are, again, unconsciously inflicting non-value added or non-feasible operations into your expected process or systemic approach to producing.
Josh: Yes, because you don’t know where your own blind spots are. The example you provided you had it all figured out. This is the ideal way it should be done. When you go and you start talking about, “Well, what is the actual reality?” You wounded up with a totally different ending point than where you had first started. I think we, we see that pretty consistently, that the power really comes from tapping into the creativity and the experience of the people who are there performing the task and making sure the product gets made the way it’s supposed to get made every single day. We had a really great interview in a previous episode with Tom Shorma.
He’s the former CEO of WCCO Belting, and one of the things he talked about was how they improved throughput by 20%. The way in which they did that was sourcing ideas for minor improvements and major innovations from their people. It started out– The example that he gave, and I love it, was one of the first suggestions they got was a request for a broom. That was it.
The individual in his area, in order to keep it clean in a well-maintained space, he needed a way of quickly cleaning things up. He asked for a broom. Initially, some of the management team dismissed the idea because that doesn’t sound like a value-producing solution at that point, but what it led to is provided this individual with a broom, he came back with another idea, “I wouldn’t have to clean this up if we made this change.”
Then, eventually, it became something that was completely automated. It saved him time, made him super happy, it actually helped ensure that there was less waste being generated. They saw a return on that investment, but it would not have been impossible without first just listening to that small starter of an idea.
Jaime: You know what, Josh? If we think about it, just under all that example, which is great and I heard that episode is that they were able to understand the what’s in it for me for those operators and how us as leadership or as managers, our job is to make their lives better, make their job easier, their job faster. Yes, we all tend to come up with this– All these leaders in manufacturing tend to come up and have great ideas. How do we just make those two things just come together and just become more powerful? The power fo simplicity is also something that is super big.
Josh: Keep it simple. It sounds like some of the major obstacles that people may encounter when trying to generate these types of systems and these processes that drive change, it can come down to not really being aware of what you don’t know. You don’t know what you don’t know. You might be stuck in here’s what the ideal solution is, but the reality may be something totally different. You’ve mentioned and touched on some obstacles just in change in general, it’s difficult to sustain change in some instances.
Generating these systems and processes that drive change, they have to be sustainable. That takes reemphasizing, overcommunicating, having the right tools in place, having the right people in place to help drive and keep it up. Having the right systems to support that. There’s a lot that has to come together to make that happen.
Jaime: We need to just recognize that change is hard. Change in any aspect is hard. Every change generates a loss and we all need to go through that change curve on where you mourn and you miss things that you lost with that change, and then you accept it and then you embrace it and then you make it bigger. Where I’ve been more successful with my teams and where I’ve seen a better change process result, in a way, to describe it some way, is when me and my team have been able to take the organization or the teams and everybody through that change, recognizing that everybody’s going to be in a different position under that curve.
Some of them are going to go through it faster and some of them are never going to go through it, but just being aware of that and managing those different stages and identifying those things are really what can help you make a more powerful change, a more significant change, and also a change that sticks.
Josh: Speaking of change that sticks, you have a story that I love hearing you tell about some pretty impressive cost savings that you helped one of your previous employers accomplish. I would love if you could share that story because it does such a great job of emphasizing that idea of the cost of change, the impact of change, and the way in which you have to work together in order to sustain change.
Jaime: We were facing a big challenge and we were talking about when you’re a plant director and you have several plants and they have different dynamics. I was managing three different lines of business. One of them was growing and very healthy and was very profitable. Another one had a very steady but high volume. The costs were increasing on the ingredients and production. Everything is going up as we are facing today. Then I had another operation that was tied to this one but had a declining volume dynamic in the market.
There was a big challenge for these two that we were facing. The business was telling us, hey, guys, we need to lower our costs and we need to increase our efficiency because otherwise, we’re eroding margins and then this business is not going to be sustainable and then we’ll have to either sell out the business, close down the factories, or do something very big. There were two options.
Either start cutting and making the team survive and then just do a cost-cutting approach all the way to just running it in pair of bones. Or another way was how can we make a structural change that can really be sustainable but make, from a growth mindset approach, something that will enable us to be a business enabler instead of being margin-eroding part of the business.
What we decided as a team or what we defined was, okay, so the challenge is cut 10% of the total production cost of those two factories. The way that we decided to do it is, okay, what are the things that where we’re losing efficiency or that we are being unable to deliver, like the standard cost or be effective in all of our losses? All these is on top of WCM Industrial, a lot of these improvement processes.
We started mapping out and understanding what were the things that we were doing that were influencing our cost to be at that level and then what could we do in order to take it to a certain level that we could actually do that cut. The challenge that we put together was, okay, how can we produce the same amount of volume with the same amount of service and without hitting inventories in four days instead of six days? We wanted to produce the same amount of volume from Monday to Thursday instead of from Monday to Saturday.
That would enable us to run the factory in two shifts of 12 hours instead of three shifts of 8 hours each, having the same amount of time, I mean, give or take, and there were a lot of complexity around it, but that’s probably for another episode. At the end, what we did is that we mapped out and we got structural changes on the way that we are operating.
We were planning the plant, the changeovers that were committed, the new products that were implemented, the maintenance hours and the maintenance reliability, the startup times, the shutdown times, and everything around it so that we were able to predictably commit to the business that we were going to be producing that same volume under those conditions.
That process took us probably six to eight months between the concept, the mapping, the understanding, installing the improvements, and then validating the sustainability or the stability of that new model so that we can actually execute the change from going from three shifts to two. We invested a lot of analysis time, a lot of maintenance on the machine so we could take them to optimal positions and then make sure that they were running in a better shape. We did a big investment, but at the end, after all the investment that we did and the savings that we delivered, we were able to reduce 10% of the production cost of the factory.
Josh: So 10%. Just be straightforward with me. What does it take to invest all this time in energy in resources in improvements to make this happen? What was the payoff?
Jaime: Let’s just put it in rough numbers. We invested three and then we saved ten.
Josh: Got it. Okay, so whatever the equivalent is, I understand being a little coy and not sharing too many details, going from three, investment of three, receiving 10 for a net of seven, pretty solid, especially considering that if sustained, well, that seven then becomes a full 10 the next year.
Jaime: Then it’s 10, 10, 10, 10.
Josh: That’s right. Well, great. I love that story. I love the way you tell it. I love how specific you get with here’s what we’re trying to do, here’s the reality that we’re facing, here were the obstacles, here’s the crazy ideas that we had going from three shifts to two shifts. I really appreciate you taking the time to share that with us. In general, Jaime, how can our listeners get in touch with you and learn more about your experience or benefit from your expertise?
Jaime: Well, definitely, we’re going to share with the podcast my email and that and just reach out. I can definitely have a virtual coffee with people that reach out. As you see, this thing is really my passion and I love talking about these things and just being creative on how you can approach things in a new way that can really drive a change and a different result. Feel free to contact me. Let’s keep the conversation going. It’s all about that.
Josh: Well, Jaime, thank you for joining us for this conversation today.
Jaime: Thank you very much, Josh. It was a pleasure again talking to you in one of these podcasts and talk to you soon.
Josh: Again, big thank you to Jaime for sharing his stories and for providing a bit of vulnerability when put on the spot. Now, Jaime may be a bit coy with the specifics, but trust me when I say that he’s helped industry-leading organizations make big changes that led to big results. He still does this in his work, helping manufacturers connect their industrial workforce through Parsable’s connected worker platform. If you like what you heard today, subscribe to Conquering Chaos in your podcast player of choice. Leave us a rating and a review to let us know that we are on the right track and we are bringing you valuable insights from industry leaders.Listen to learn how you can create and sustain systems that enable your teams to make change happen!