A3: Continuing Closings from Home

Like many companies around the world, Ulbrich is doing its part in adjusting to the new norm amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, in-person meetings and conferences have been replaced with telecommuting and video conferencing. These meetings and conferences extend beyond day-to-day functions; they extend into Ulbrich’s lean environment.

Ulbrich’s lean activities are generally broken into tasks called A3 Projects. As discussed in one of our previous articles, A3 Projects improve Ulbrich by reducing unneeded waste in work processes. Generally, these projects are shared at meetings called A3 Closings. Closings are morale boosters where insight and knowledge can be shared from one person to another. This brings up an important question: if social distancing measures have most employees working from home, how can a company continue A3 Closings?

Spreading Knowledge Virtually

Recently, Ulbrich conducted its first ever Virtual A3 Closing. Over 90 employees from several of Ulbrich’s divisions gathered digitally to learn about recent improvement projects. Machine operators were able to share the different improvements they made through visual aids, such as videos, pictures, and PowerPoint presentations.

This virtual closing gave meaning to spreading knowledge virtually. Not only did machine operators get to share their improvements with their co-workers, they got to share their improvements with other divisions. An operator in Connecticut could see what an operator in Illinois did, and vice versa. This defines the lean concept of yokoten, or spreading the knowledge. During this closing, Ulbrich employees were able to teach others not just in the same room, but from one work location to another!

The Closings Must Go On!

Although our first Virtual A3 Closing was a success, some technical mistakes were made along the way; unmuted microphones interrupted the meeting, video playback was occasionally choppy, and some of the audio had an echo effect. While these might appear to be embarrassing or dejecting, mistakes like these are to be expected; these are examples of learning opportunities. Instead of focusing only on the negatives, a learning organization like Ulbrich can focus its efforts towards turning each mistake into a process improvement. In other words, these mistakes will help Ulbrich improve its lean environment!

Ultimately, this virtual closing is an example of the dedication, willpower, and effort of our valued employees. Even during these uncertain times, having so many members of Ulbrich gather to learn from one another shows how our lean culture continues to thrive. Virtual A3 Closings are the exact kinds of activities that will continue to keep morale and comradery high as we navigate through these uncharted waters.

Hello From The Mill!

Speaking of comradery, our friends and coworkers at the Ulbrich Specialty Strip Mill in CT also made this video to help us be more connected during this unprecedented time. Everyone is staying safe, distant, and strong. Machines are still running, and steel is still rolling! Everything is being cleaned in a great rotation, and we are as safe as we can be. We will get through this, together!

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