Toyota Benchmarked... Yet Again

There's a great article worth checking out over on the CNNMoney / Fortune site. It's one thing to see software companies adapting Lean methodologies, but it's quite another to see them transform their culture, and Menlo Innovations seems to be doing the latter. Jeffrey Liker confirms: "Any piece you see in Menlo you'll see somewhere else. What you won't find [elsewhere] is all the pieces working together…."

The article covers four techniques that contribute to Menlo's success -- Assigning bite-sized pieces of work, Keeping projects in plain sight, Observing the customer in action, and Training workers to stay flexible -- but, it's this last area that I found quite insightful, and CEO Rich Sheridan's explanation of "towers of knowledge." Because all programmers at the company work in pairs, no one employee becomes the sole "owner" and facilitator of a particular project. This keeps programmers available to delve into other areas as well making all projects team efforts.

What do you think of Menlo Innovations' work atmosphere and business techniques? Will it become a benchmark for its own industry? Do you know of any other software developers that are building this type of culture?


"Made in the USA" -- Can it Happen Again?

During the past 20 years, US manufacturers have moved their production operations, at a massive rate, to foreign countries that offer cheaper labor costs.The migration of US manufacturing jobs to such locations as China have resulted in cheaper products, but the overall effect on the US economy has been hotly debated. Will manufacturing in the United States ever see a resurgence?

Tim Hutzel and Paul Piechota recently published a very interesting and timely book titled Keeping Your Business in the U.S.A.: Profit Globally While Operating Locally, and they feel that the current adage -- "The US can't compete with offshore labor costs" -- is a mere myth. Both have spent the past three years researching companies that have flourished while manufacturing their products in the US and their book documents just how these organizations achieved this goal.

I recently asked both authors why they believe the US can recover from the out flow of manufacturing, and here is their response:

A burning issue that is certainly in need of a remedy is the mass departure of manufacturing from the US to foreign countries. The results of this exodus are felt every day. As much as you would like to buy US-made products, this has become an impossible task. It is heartbreaking and disturbing that so many products, such as bicycles, clocks, garments, shoes, and computers are not produced domestically anymore.

Manufacturing can return to the US because many companies have been hurt by the rush to outsource. We have heard the tales of many business leaders regretting their outsourcing decisions -– the unplanned costs, poor quality, uncontrolled processes, long delivery times, graft, monstrous order quantities, inventory nightmares, lost and damaged products, oversight trips overseas, confrontations, half-truths, excessive order-to-remittance times, and added debt. In addition, there are social and national implications of outsourcing -– unemployment, increased government jobs, loss of skills, weakened national defense, loss of tax base, and unbridled national debt.

In our book, we clearly illustrate three manufacturing companies that have been able to resist the outsourcing trend and achieve overwhelming success while keeping jobs in the US. We have examined the successes, failures, lessons learned, and methods used by each company to achieve and sustain profitability.

What do you think the future holds for US manufacturing? Will labor costs in China only eventually rise? Will shipping and inventory costs associated with production in foreign countries eventually be important factors in cost?