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 30+ 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 TQM and I was deeply into 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 Mssr. Battier who was retiring. Mssr. Battier was on a farewell tour of most of the Michelin manufacturing plants throughout the world. I had met Mssr. Battier during my training in France at the beginning of my career at Michelin. As Mssr. Battier went from plant to plant, his intention was to spend time with young, energetic employees who were rooted in Quality and when he came to my plant in Dothan, AL he selected 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, "Mr. Sproull, come with me," and we walked out onto the production floor. After standing there for a good 10 minutes, Mssr. 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 dumfounded about what I was supposed to hear. In about an hour I noticed the sound of an extruder 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, what a great lesson for me, but he wasn't finished.
He then said, "Mr. Sproull, come with me," and we walked over to one of the carcasse 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 Mssr. 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 carcasse was different than the first operator's method. I went and found Mssr. 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, Mssr. 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 distinct odor to it, 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, Mssr. Battier wasn't done, so like before he said, "Come with me Mr. Sproull," and we went back to the 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 minutes. Mssr. Battier's lesson on using your senses was a great lesson 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 Mssr. Battier.....