Trust is the Ultimate Lubricant

Speed. Acceleration. Agility. If you haven’t been hearing those non-stop, lift that rock and get out in the real world. But the reminder is not enough. Encouragement is appreciated, but again is insufficient. How do we become as fast at everything as the world insists we must be?

Most of you have used some tools of lean to reduce inventories and lot sizes while improving on-time delivery. You’ve set up kanbans with customers and suppliers, and likely some internally, to compensate for lack of flow. You perhaps require detailed expense reports with receipts and time cards signed by a supervisor. You inspect what your supplier sends despite the accompanying paperwork, as your customer does with your shipments.

You have an ERP system you use somehow. Generally they ensure that an order isn’t given to production until accounting has verified customer credit. Generally they ensure we don’t pay a supplier until accounting has verified that receiving data, PO information, and the invoice match. Generally they value inventory based on transactions, hopefully very few. With BOMs and forecasts they help you see incorrect estimates of future component and material demand. International business requires letters of credit or other guarantees of performance typically recorded within the system.

And a few of you have begun leveraging lean tools to streamline product development. We know that time-to-market with a verified product is crucial to profitability. Unfortunately, new tools come in late, over budget and forcing stack tolerance corrections. What the customer said would flow through to consumers quickly doesn’t. The design to minimize vibration doesn’t. Lifecycle testing of critical-to-quality components can only happen so quickly. Market verification requires more than opinion.

These are examples of using bad data as if it were good and not trusting key partners. Both add friction to every transaction, every decision, every communication. Most data doesn’t need to be right; it needs to be close enough to enable good decisions. Most checks and double checks are because we simply don’t trust people. We say we do, but our actions demonstrate the truth.

You’ve likely heard of bitcoin and its technical basis, blockchain. Blockchain is a technology that provides documented guarantees without the need for a third party. It eliminates the friction caused by letters of credit, company credit checks, and other activities based on a lack of trust. And we all know that friction is a drag on speed.

Think about all the resources you waste ensuring that someone else is honest or right. Processes build in those inefficiencies rather than develop methods to prevent them. Sure people make mistakes, and that’s unlikely to change. And some are dishonest.

Automation can prevent classes of human errors and evil intention, and technology like blockchain other parts. Anything that can be calculated can be error proofed through automation, and what can be calculated expands daily. Third party verifications become unnecessary as technology advances. All of that reduces friction and increases speed.

I hope that your organization is already using sensors to prevent unexpected downtime. Many of you are no doubt using that technology in your installed base of product to gain information to help your quality and your customers. This information increases trust by default. You have reliable information not dependent upon a person performing according to a preventive maintenance schedule.

Every manufacturing company (and every organization regardless of industry) suffers from “lack of trust friction.” The first step is to acknowledge it. The next is to prioritize it. And next is to apply policies, behaviors and simple technologies to reduce it. If you can’t trust, eliminate the need for trust. Lubricate all your important processes using these suggestions and you’ll be the one out front demonstrating speed.