Manufacturing ERP Software
Categories: Theory of Constraints
Use Your Senses

Use Your Senses

By Bob Sproull


In my last post we completed our series entitled Viable Vision by discussing how to identify and exploit a constraint that resides in the market.  In today’s post I want to share a very important lesson I learned many years ago. 

My Important Lesson

Have you ever been taught an important lesson in the past that has "stuck" with you many years later?  In today's blog I want to relate an experience I had some 40+ years ago that still resonates with me today.  This experience happened to me while I was working for Michelin Tire Corporation.  I was a Quality Manager and part of my responsibilities was continuous improvement.  This was back in the days of Total Quality Management (TQM), long before Lean and Six Sigma came onto the scene.  At the time I was deeply into using statistical tools and techniques.  So much so that everything I looked at typically involved the use of something that was statistically based.  I really hadn't done a good job of learning some of the "soft" tools, but on this day, I was about to receive perhaps one of the most valuable lessons ever.

As you probably know, Michelin's roots are in France and there was a gentleman named Mr. Battier who was retiring after many years at Michelin.  Mr. Battier was on a farewell tour of most of the Michelin manufacturing plants throughout the world.  I had met Mr. Battier during my training in France at the beginning of my career at Michelin.  As Mr. Battier went from plant to plant, his intention was to spend time with young, energetic employees who were rooted in Quality and continuous improvement and when he came to my plant in Dothan, AL he selected me.  It was very much an honor for me. It was a reunion of sorts for us and we spent about an hour just chatting with each other about the business.

At the end of the hour, he said in his distinct French accent, "Mr. Sproull, come with me," and we walked out onto the production floor.  After standing in the same place for a good 10 minutes, Mr. Battier turned to me and said, "Do you hear it?"  I had no idea what he was talking about, so I responded by saying, "Do I hear what?"  He replied, "When you hear it, come find me and tell me about it," and then he walked away.  I stood there dumbfounded about what I was supposed to be hearing.  In about an hour I noticed the faint sound of a rubber extruder with one of its bearing squealing, so I went and told him.  He said, "Very good Mr. Sproull.....many people listen, but they never hear."  I just smiled and thought to myself, what a great lesson this was for me, but Mr. Battier wasn't finished with me.

He then said, "Mr. Sproull, come with me," and we walked over to one of the tire building machines.  We stood and watched for a good 30 minutes until a second operator relieved the first operator for lunch.  We watched for another 30 minutes and then Mr. Battier turned to me and said, "Do you see it?"  I asked him what he was talking about, but he only said, "When you see it, come find me and tell me about it."  Again, I had no idea what he expected me to see, but as I watched, I noticed that the second operator's method of building a tire was different than the first operator's method.  I went and found Mr. Battier and told him what I had seen and he again responded, "Very good Mr. Sproull, many people look, but they don't see."  I absolutely understood what he meant and appreciated his lesson, but again, he wasn't finished.

Once again, Mr. Battier said, "Come with me Mr. Sproull and we walked past the same extruder that had the bearing problem and ended up at a different extruder.  He turned to me and asked, "Do you smell it?" and then again, he walked away.  I walked back and forth between the two extruders and there was a very discernible difference in odors.  The extruder with the bearing problem, had a distinctly different odor than the other one, so I found him and explained what I had found.  He just smiled and said, "Good job Mr. Sproull, many people sniff but they don't smell."  Still, Mr. Battier wasn't done, so like before he said, "Come with me Mr. Sproull," and we went back to the rubber preparation extruders.  He took my hand and placed in onto the stream of hot rubber exiting the extruder and was about to ask me if I felt it, but before he did, I said, "Ouch, and yes, I can feel it!!"  He calmly replied, "But do you really feel it?"  I said, "You mean the small bumps on the surface?"  He smiled and said, "Very good Mr. Sproull....many people touch, but they never feel."

At this point I knew that the only sense left was taste so I turned to him and said, "You're not going to make me eat some rubber are you?"  He laughed so very loud and continued to do so for several seconds.  Mr. Battier's lesson on using your senses was a great lesson for me back then and I still use it to teach people the importance of searching for and finding symptoms of problems as well as the importance of putting all of the symptoms together to develop a root cause of a problem.  He taught me how important it was not to wait for a problem to be discovered by an inspector looking at finished product, but rather to "live in the process" and to always be on the look-out for symptoms of problems to come.  I can't tell you how many times I have used this simple exercise to identify potential problems well before they become full-blown problems.  Thank you Mr. Battier.....

Next Time

In my next post, we will begin discussing a new continuous improvement subject. As always, if you have any questions or comments about any of my posts, leave me a message and I will respond.

Until next time.

Bob Sproull



Bob Sproull

About the author

Bob Sproull has helped businesses across the manufacturing spectrum improve their operations for more than 40 years.

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