The Ideal Factory: The Hidden Factory Must Go


Not too long ago I had posted a question on LinkedIn: “What is your idea of The Ideal Factory?” I asked the recipients to keep it rather short, two or three sentences at most. This is what I received from Brad;

“The ideal factory is that in which the “hidden factory” does not exist. In meaning the activities that take place to produce an end product are visible to the customer (internal or external).”

I think Brad is brilliant.

How many times have we experienced this? Our employer says one thing, but actually does exactly the opposite. One factory I worked for was an adamant proponent of the Toyota Production System. They said all the right words. Yet the day before the owner’s scheduled visit associates worked late into the evening to hide excess inventory. Of course, once the owner’s departed, workers came in early to return it to the floor.

This resulted in an erosion of trust between the rank in file and management. Clearly management was seeking to deceive the owners from what was the truth. So when questions were asked of management, their answers were met with thinly veiled skepticism. The same was true when management implemented new ideas, again those on the factory floor were unwilling to make much more than a token effort to ensure success.

At the same company, department leaders were less than truthful while fulfilling the kaizen requirement. Each associate was required to submit three kaizens per month. Total associates on the factory floor exceeded eight hundred. This meant more than twenty-four hundred kaizens were being turned in each month. Far more than the Kaizen Department’s five associates could ever hope to complete. Leaders quickly realized, since each department was required to keep a copy of the kaizens for three years, they could pull an old kaizen, copy the information over to the new form, sign off, and resubmit. Every month management would stand before the associates at an all-hands meeting and announce that, once again, the company had attained 100% kaizen compliance.

During our 70+ collective years in manufacturing my partners and I have experienced hundreds, if not thousands, of such incidents.

The Ideal Factory will eliminate the ‘hidden factory” by not allowing these types of situations. Inventory control is crucial. Without it in the first example excess inventory developed and rather than the resolve the cause, management decided to hide it. In the second scenario, unrealistic goals were set for the associates. The letter of the law was enforced, while the spirit departed a long time ago. In both cases respect in leadership suffered.

The Ideal Factory returns commonsense and practicality to the workplace. We know what is right and now is the time to do it.