Confessions of a Lean Rookie - BodyShop Business

Confessions of a Lean Rookie

Implementing lean/kaizen in a high-production shop produced some major challenges for me.

Over the next few months, I will document my day-to-day struggles attempting to implement kaizen at a high-volume traditional shop. I’m sure we’ll share some laughs, tears, “uh huh” moments…and some “WTF” moments, too! I truly hope that all of this pain I’m about to endure for my own personal satisfaction of being able to say I conquered kaizen helps others along the way. I hope to detail what worked and didn’t work and also help shop owners figure out if they truly want to go down this road. Do you truly want to be a kaizen/lean facility, or will you just be happy calling yourself that because it sounds good?

I don’t have an incredible backstory to throw out there for you guys filled with a bunch of who’s who in the industry. I grew up around my grandfather and father’s body shop, until my grandfather passed away when I was 17. After he died, my father didn’t want anything to do with the business anymore and moved on.

Who knew that I would learn much more than how to sweep the shop floors and scuff panels before paint? Even way back then, I discovered that quality and the customer come first. My father wouldn’t let a vehicle out of the booth with a dirt nib in it, that simple. Kaizen/lean organizations take on the same beliefs of the small shops: the only way to make it is to please the customer and give them what they want. And what they want is quality, speed and price.

Crime Doesn’t Pay
Next, I went off to college, studying criminal law/ criminal justice, got to the finish line and decided it wasn’t for me. You see, I wanted more. I didn’t want to be your run-of-the-mill police officer (no disrespect to any police officers who put their lives on the line for us daily). I wanted more of a challenge; I wanted to be a homicide detective, where every day would be different and I wouldn’t get bored. But it took too many years on the force to get to that point. I could never see myself in a career where I did the exact same thing every day.

My Kind of Lean
Over the next eight years, I worked in all different aspects of the automotive industry, which increased my knowledge even more. I spent time being a mechanical tech, parts consultant, parts manager, manager of a truck accessory company and then full circle back to the collision industry as an assistant manager at the local dealership. We all know the typical horror stories that go along with traditional dealership body shops and their traditional thinking managers.

I was able to catapult myself to shop manager in less than a year. I was putting together some of the first building blocks of a kaizen/lean facility but didn’t even know it and had never even heard those terms before. I built a strong team of people who, even though they were flat rate, had each other’s back. I got rid of the body techs who took naps in the cars or left at 10 a.m. because they were out of work. I didn’t know it yet, but I was creating a winning culture.

I displayed a lot of “stuff” on the shop floor: daily/monthly goals, how we measured up to those goals, tech efficiency, where the vehicles were in the shop, a schedule rack, etc. I was creating visual management. I had the people, the culture and some visuals that kept everyone informed. We had the customer as our main focus alongside speed and quality. But I didn’t have the other ingredients that I didn’t even know existed yet.

Slap in the Face

For the last five years, I had the pleasure of being mentored by a kaizen guru. Although we had our rifts from time to time, he truly gave me a plethora of knowledge that I can’t thank him enough for. Going from a traditional shop with some clever ideas of my own to being introduced to the Toyota Production System, kaizen and 5S made a lot of sense, but because we were already living in a kaizen organization every day, it didn’t slap you in the face and make you see that this was “the way” to do the work and the other ways were just stupid and not sustainable for the long haul.

I got that slap in the face about three months ago. I took some much needed time off with my three young children and searched for something big that I could conquer. I’m not by any means an expert on kaizen or lean, but I do have an insatiable drive to be the best in whatever I do, an appetite for gaining knowledge and five years of learning under a very good teacher. So, I thought, why not see what I can do with all of that?

David vs. Goliath
I accepted a position at a high-volume shop with the intention of implementing lean and running production at the same time. Sounds easy enough, sign me up! Enter the “slap in the face.”

The first day, I did the gemba walk. Just me, a notebook and a pen. Nobody knew who I was; they all thought I was a paint rep. I just walked around, talked to the techs and observed the insanity going on. I had no less than 10 million things in my mind that we could do right then to make things better. It was an awakening; I now truly understood the need for change.

When I interviewed with the owner, he said he had knowledge of lean and that they had been heading down that path until they got sidetracked. What I walked into was some parts carts, outlined bays and 5S’ed material carts. There were no visuals anywhere, not even a glimpse of flow, and no teamwork in an hourly shop. However, what he did have was an incredibly busy shop. I was aligning myself with another industry pioneer. He was one of the few success stories who built his business from the ground up, by himself by satisfying the customer. Customers were literally knocking down the door.

When introduced to the team on day two, I quickly noticed that the closest thing you could relate the culture of this shop to was a deadly spreading cancer. When they weren’t making snide comments behind my back about “chasing me out like the others” and taking bets on how long I would last, they were throwing each other under the bus every chance they got. I knew I had two ways to approach the situation: I could come in guns blazing and lay down the law, or slowly implement very small things that would create immediate improvement and gain their respect. I chose a hybrid approach because the culture was so bad that there had to be a couple “public executions” as described in “The Art of War.” The team had been through their share of managers before and had to understand they were entering new territory. They were no longer going to be managed; they were going to be led.

First Two Weeks
The first two weeks went well. It seemed that the culture was changing and team members who I originally thought were too far gone were starting to come around. The main issues were on-time delivery, quality and vehicles staying on the lot too long before going into the repair plan. From day one, I was puzzled how anything got in or out on time. There were no visuals to go by except for two key racks, one for vehicles ready for the repair plan and one for vehicles outside waiting to be worked on.

Heijunka Board
The first thing I implemented was a heijunka board where everybody could see where every vehicle was in the system, when the target date was and if there were any sublet operations that needed to be done. Prior to the board, everything was run from a daily printout titled “Due Out Today” generated from production software. The daily printout gave you some information, such as “We don’t even have the parts for this car yet,” or, at 5 p.m., “I didn’t know that needed a wheel repair and an alignment.”

Repair Plan Visual
The next step was to set up a visual for repair plan priority and a production start rack. These tools were a constant visual on what to do next in the correct logical order. There were no longer techs walking around the shop for 30 minutes looking for a manager to find out what they were supposed to do next; it was visually there in front of their eyes, fail-proof.

Fixing Quality
The next step was to try to fix quality. Knowing that this shop badly needed a standard process to follow, I also understood the time it would take me to run production and attempt to write a good process for each step of the operation. Despite ownership claiming they wanted to take the company in this direction, it still came down to the daily bottom line.

I decided the next logical step would be to put quality standards and checks in place. I knew from my previous experiences that if the team doesn’t have input or see the need for change, they won’t buy in.
Due to the large number of techs, I decided to break them down into the areas that they typically worked in and let them create their own quality standards. The quality standards were based on customer needs and broken into two parts: what a certain area needed from the upstream operations, and what that area needed to provide to the downstream operations. All the standards were created and agreed upon by the team and posted in each area of the operation. Now, we simply needed to execute.

Lack of Communication
While meeting with the team to create the quality standards, it became obvious that communication between sales (estimators) and the production floor was seriously lacking. This led to setting false expectations with the customer and missing out on what the customer actually wanted.

The estimators would write quick, inaccurate parking lot estimates, schedule the customer and pre-order the parts. The customer would be given a target date based on the parking lot estimate; this step alone just blew all chances of making the customer happy.

When the customer dropped off their vehicles for repair, there would be no interaction between the person who had knowledge of the damage and the customer. The keys were given to the people at the front desk and then handed off to the detailer. There was no communication between sales and the production team on what the customer was asking for, what was related or unrelated, any concerns the customer may have had, or anything special the customer was asking for. The only thing they had to go by was that poor quality parking lot estimate. This led to four major wastes: excess movement, waiting, overprocessing and defects.

Once the vehicle went into repair planning, the tech would have to call the estimator (who was downstairs), wait for them to finally come upstairs to the vehicle and then hopefully determine what was accident-related. The tech would then disassemble the vehicle, put the parts on the cart, move the vehicle outside and call the estimator back up to write the supplement, take the photos and order the parts. How accurate would you expect this process to be?

Knowing the repair plan was the most important step of the entire process, I had to put some things in place fast. The first was to create a vehicle check-in sheet for the estimator to fill out with the customer at vehicle dropoff that would capture all related/unrelated damage and special concerns/expectations. The second was to get an estimator on the shop floor in repair planning.

Despite much begging and pleading to stop all parking lot estimates and instead schedule the vehicle for repairs so we could identify 100 percent of the damage up front, I couldn’t get the owner to buy in. Luckily, I had an employee in the parts department who had his appraiser’s license and was looking for a bigger role in the company. I placed him in between the two repair plan techs with a computer, a camera, insurance guidelines and a little bit of training. Once again, all I needed now was execution.

Making Mistakes
Implementing lean is the easy part; dedication to the execution without wavering is what separates the real from the fake.

As I said in the beginning of this article, I am by no means an expert. Do I think I’m going about this in the right order? Probably not. But that’s the point of this article: I want you to see some of the mistakes I made. I went from being mentored in a controlled environment to jumping in with the wolves and finding out the best way to implement lean on the fly.

My next article will focus on past and current implementation, what worked/didn’t work, and why and where we’re headed next.

Tim Komoroski is a lean facilitator/operations leader for a collision center in Pittsburgh, Pa. He has spent 18 years in the automotive repair industry and gained knowledge of The Toyota Production System while working for The Body Shop @. You can email him at [email protected].

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