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Lean and Six Sigma Create Valuable Synergies for RFID Adopters

Here's how to achieve the greatest return from your company's RFID investment, and facilitate continuous improvement.
By Kurt Hozak
To aid in creating that trust, Adler noted, "NUMMI's culture placed a high premium on consistency—on 'walking the talk.'" As an example of this, the plant's policies, such as not laying off workers except under existentially dire circumstances, helped to reduce employees' fears that their suggestions might be used against them. When the plant's capacity utilization dropped to approximately 60 percent in 1988, NUMMI followed through on its commitment and did not lay off any workers. Participation in the employee suggestion program more than tripled between 1986 and 1991—perhaps, in part, because management demonstrated that it could be trusted not to indirectly punish workers for their ideas that helped to increase plant efficiency (and thus contributed to the reduced utilization).

Ninety-two percent of NUMMI employees participated in the suggestion program in 1991, with more than 80 percent of the 10,000 suggestions made that year being implemented. Other companies have copied many of NUMMI's specific lean practices, but have not achieved the same high level of success. This may be because they lack NUMMI's culture of trust that generated such high levels of employee enthusiasm for continuous improvement efforts.

Mutual trust and internal support are as necessary for taking full advantage of RFID as they were to the success of NUMMI's lean implementation. Without good communication reinforced by corresponding deeds, employees may believe that their ideas about how to use RFID will be ignored, or may fear that the technology will be utilized in ways that will make their jobs less enjoyable. In either case, a lack of trust may cause them to actively or passively perform in ways that could limit gains from RFID, or even lead to outright failure.

In the article 'Sketch' the User Experience to Ensure an RFID Project's Success, the leader of an acclaimed project to protect workers from being hit by trains observed that a system could be perfectly designed, but "if track workers tossed the tags in the toilet because they didn't want to be monitored, it would all be for nothing." Although continuous RFID tracking can offer unprecedented insights about processes, employee resistance or a lack of engagement can subvert such a system and make companies less competitive.

In response to a question posed at the RFID Journal LIVE! 2012 conference about how to increase enthusiasm for RFID, one speaker in the health-care track stressed the need to show employees that the collected data can be used to make their jobs better. The data might show that workers are not taking enough breaks, and that additional employees need to be hired so that the existing staff is not overworked.

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