Lean Manufacturing, Manufacturing Trends, Smart Manufacturing

The Impact of Working Remotely Under COVID-19: An Interview with L2L Founders

By Ryker Low
21 May 20

 

 

 

In the third episode of the video blog series, Leaning In, Eric covers the how important cloud services and automation are for manufacturing with the current COVID-19 pandemic limiting the amount of time that can be spent in plants. 

To learn more about plant automation and manufacturing, read "Effectively Managing Your Plant Remotely". 

blog https://www.l2l.com/blog/effectively-managing-your-plant-remotely

[FULL Transcript]

Eric Whitley  

Hey everybody, and welcome to this latest episode of Leaning In. I'm Eric Whitley, from Leading2Lean and today I've got three guys that we're going to talk to over video of course, in this day and age, today's April 3, 2020. Wow, what a couple of weeks we've been in, huh? A lot of craziness has been going on here in the States and everything going on around the world. Never before have we been more involved together as humans with what's going on around the world. It's tough to do what we do. It's tough to be in business. It's tough to not be social with other human beings. For those of us who like to talk, we have a hard time not being face to face with folks. So today's interview is going to be online, like every other interview that's going on and every other conversation that we're having these days. So we're going to talk to three guys, we are gonna talk to Keith Barr, who's the CEO of Leading2Lean, Bob Argyle, who is the Chief Customer Officer for Leading2Lean and Tyler Whitaker, who's the Chief Technical Officer for Leading2Lean. The three founders of Leading2Lean, who had a vision like 10-12 years ago of setting up a company that could work remotely and setting up a product that would allow the users to work remotely and I'll be darned if it's not; I don't want to say this to flippantly, but it's paying off right now. The ability to work remotely, the ability to be able to see your factory run remotely. The ability to be able to look at production numbers, scheduled production, look at the abnormalities that are happening. Look at the downtime that's happening out on the shop floor, be able to do that remotely and try to keep as many people safe as possible. And I would be remiss if I didn't say thank you to all of the production workers who are in the factories right now. Who are running the product that the world needs right now. How grateful we are to all the doctors, all the nurses, all the frontline, EMT folks, all the people that are working in stores and working in the grocery stores. Thank you for doing that for us. We appreciate it. We really do, and it's going to get better. And so I'm excited to talk with these three guys. We had an initiative this week where we went out and talked to our clients, and said, "tell us about what's going on out in your world". And we've got some great feedback and we're going to share that feedback with you. So, without further ado, let's get into the interview. And thanks for joining. 


Eric Whitley  

All right, so here we are with the founders of L2L. So thank you guys for joining me. I appreciate it.


Bob Argyle  

No problem. 


Tyler Whitaker  

Yeah. Thanks for having us. 


Eric Whitley  

Go ahead and introduce yourself will you? Keith, do you want to start off introducing yourself? Who are you? 


Keith Barr  

Sure. I'm Keith Barr. I'm the President and CEO of Leading2Lean, and one of the co-founders with Bob and Tyler here. We started the company in 2010 and it's the longest job I think I've ever had, the longest single job I have ever had. 


Eric Whitley  

Bob, you want to go ahead? 


Bob Argyle  

Yeah, so my name is Bob Argyle and I am also one of the founders with Keith and Tyler. This is not the longest job I've ever had, before this I had a job in manufacturing that I spent 23 years at was the longest. This is now the second longest. So, my role as Chief Customer Officer is working with our customers on implementations and ongoing support and just making sure that we're adding value to their business.


Eric Whitley  

Nice, and Tyler?


Tyler Whitaker  

Yeah. So I'm Tyler Whitaker. I'm the Chief Technology Officer, Chief Operating Officer for Leading2Lean. My responsibilities are the technology. When you talk about being involved with a company for over 10 years in the tech-world, that's a lifetime or two or three, really.


Eric Whitley  

Yeah, no kidding.


Tyler Whitaker  

Yeah so for Keith and I, this feels like maybe we grew up here.


Keith Barr  

Yeah, yeah. Or we can't get away from each other no matter what we try.


Eric Whitley  

So I just did the intro, and one thing struck me, and I gotta ask this question. Did you ever envision when you set up this company, started with Leading2Lean, and you set up this company as a remote company. Did you ever envision that we would be in this position? Like going, "Man, that was the right decision". I mean, what was the thought process behind that? How did we get here?


Keith Barr  

I'm sure we'd love to have that kind of foresight. I think there were some clear objectives that probably resonate today, more than any time because the pressure we were under, when we created the company, you know, the objective for us was just operate more effectively, and less expensively, and that meant not having to have offices, so starting a remote company was a little bit bold for startup. But I think the opportunity for us was to have people have a little bit more flexible lifestyle to accommodate their families a little bit better and avoid some of the costs of operating an office, which is always good for a startup, saving costs. But I think the culture that we were able to develop as a result of that has been a very powerful thing, even before this event. So now that we're here, and I think a lot of other companies are experiencing this, the challenges of trying to get their workforce to be productive at home. And there's some things that we've probably already learned as a result of that. So we kind of didn't miss a beat and we just kept on. 


Eric Whitley  

Yeah, that's what I kind of said was, we didn't have to learn anything new. We've been doing this so it's worked out well. So then I was thinking, Tyler, about the technology 10 years ago, and where it was and where it is today. And how did we, you know, what had to happen in order for all this to happen?


Tyler Whitaker  

Yeah, we've made tremendous strides over the last 10 years. By the time we decided to pull this company together, I'd been doing this for maybe three years, working on little side hustles and little business opportunities, and one I just worked out of my home, and I had come to really love it. And some of the companies that I was interacting with and going to conferences, some of the early ones there like Automatic, there was an early adopter in the Bay Area of this work from home, work from all over the world type of company structure and I really liked that. Matt Mullenwitz is the CEO there at Chester Media, and I got to interact with him a little bit and some of his employees are people that I know. So when we decided to form this, selfishly, I was thinking, "Hey, I don't want to lose the lifestyle that I had and I also don't want to spend $40,000 on a conference room table". Because Keith knows that story, we were in a previous venture backed startup and we had a boardroom we needed to furnish, and we found this awesome boardroom table for 40 grand and almost pulled the trigger on it and then thought better of it and realized, wow, we could we can fund a lot of the company with that kind of money. So, you know, I think it went hand in hand with our ideal to control our own destiny, to really bootstrap this company from the ground up, and kind of, maybe burn the bridges or burn the boats if you will, to focus on what's going to drive revenue and make the car be as successful as opposed to just maybe build out or the trappings of a company. 


Eric Whitley  

Right, and then Bob, I went off to be a consultant early on, but you were still in the plants when all this started happening, but what was that thought process? When did you kind of realize that you could take this idea and go make it what it is today?


Bob Argyle  

Well, the first time I ever used it and used the concept and saw the value of it, I knew right then that this needed to be. The company I was at and I knew this was the best thing that could happen. It needed to be in every single facility. So I remember one day saying “this type of approach and technology is going to be in all of manufacturing someday”. And when I said it, I had no idea that we would be here today. And there would be a lot of it and now it's real. It's really neat to go to plants in other countries and see them using your product.


Eric Whitley  

I don't know that we really anticipated that the remote access and the kind of transparency that the system is going to provide would be of such value at that time like it is now. When we started the company, we were coming out of a recession and so having the ability to lower costs very quickly and be very effective at doing more with less was the mantra. So we built the capability and the platform around those things. At the time, being a cloud solution and having remote access for a browser, at that time, while browsers were available, it wasn't on the scale that it is today with smartphones, tablets, and things like that. So today, that value is really being realized by every supervisor manager that uses our platform. 


Eric Whitley  

You know one thing, Bob, maybe you could talk a little bit about this. This week, we've talked to some of our customers about what the effect has been on this. I've heard some interesting things, but I'd like to hear from you. What are some of the amazingly interesting things that you've heard now that we talked to our about customers how they're doing this week?


Bob Argyle  

Yeah, so what I've heard consistently is they haven't missed a beat. The other thing I hear is, a lot of our customers have to keep running their manufacturing sites, and some of them are crucial. And though getting more people out of the facility, other than the ones that necessarily have to be there to run the machines or fix the machines, it's helped them. They got planners, they got schedulers, they got office people, all the production, supervision and management are able to do everything from home. It's set up and they're actually solving problems or they're going through A3s and problem solving activities remotely that are all being triggered from Leading2Lean. So for them, they're like, “Yeah, I don't know how we would have done it without Leading2Lean”. And I don't know how other companies are, to be honest with you. So it's been nothing but positive feedback.


Tyler Whitaker  

As a counterpoint, I was on an industry call this morning with the top IT leaders of several local universities from the state that I'm in and, listening to the CIO for the state of Utah to say, "Hey, we sent 15,000 employees home last month". Talking about this, the struggle and the challenges of getting all that set up and whatnot. And to think about the customers, Bob that you mentioned, how they can just take their laptop home, and they can keep working and keep running from home and be able to manage remotely what's going on. That's a game changer.


Keith Barr  

But I think the collaboration that exists, because they're all looking at the same data, there's also the element of notification, appropriate notification, that that they can receive, regardless of where they are. We've had supervisors say "I've got a threshold of things that I want to know about, even if it's in the middle of the night". So with our system, they've always been able to do that. But now it's much more important because I think they're able to see the information immediately by talking to somebody right away about what the circumstance is, and not have to physically be in the plant to do that. 


Eric Whitley  

Don't you think that you could have 30 to 40 supervisors, looking at their laptop, and they're all looking at the exact same data. I think that probably really adds to the fact that you can do that smoothly. 


Tyler Whitaker  

I think it also is really exciting to think when they see something that's a problem in a plant that they can issue an event right into the system right now and they know that somebody at the plant is going to pick that up and start reacting. They don't have to go search the whole plant, get on a radio, track the guy down to get something solved. They see something in the system remote and it's as if they were sitting right there next to the guy.


Keith Barr  

Then they know when he picked it up. It's out there. They know who picked it up, they know where they're at right at the moment working on it and everything.


Tyler Whitaker  

I had one customer tell me today that they basically took all the terminals out. So all the keyboard terminals, because that's one way to touch. Everybody's interacting with that and the fact that they already have tablets and everybody's got tablets, and I guess they put some more out in the production lines. Now everybody can use their own device to help share and minimize touch. 


Keith Barr  

We had somebody yesterday that said that we took all the doors out that we could take out without affecting any kind of security or safety because that's another touch item, right? And so that's the value point. The fact that everyone is carrying a personal device of some kind. We all have one of these right? Yeah. Oh, now if that becomes my communication interface, I can control the sanity and sanitary nature of this myself.


Tyler Whitaker  

So are you saying this is a war on the virus and a war on doorknobs?


Keith Barr  

The door manufacturers are probably suffering right now.


Eric Whitley  

A war on touching anything I think is what it is. You know, one of the one of the interesting things is I've been a lean consultant for years and years and years. And one thing that you've always heard is that you've got to do it with paper first, you've got to do it visually on a grease board, and then you can go digital or something like that. But one of the remarks that I heard that just blew me away, was that somebody made a remark that for the first time ever, in that thought process Kanban cards are, like physical Kanban cards are useless. You can't move a Kanban card. You can't go to gemba and go move a Kanban card in order to signal production. It's got to be digital now and that just blew me away. Because, for years I had in my head, this thought process that you had to do things by hand and by paper and all that stuff, but this is proven otherwise.


Tyler Whitaker  

It's funny you bring that up because I have one couple rumor that told me this week that as soon as this is over, we got to get your production module in here and going because we have no visibility to production. Doing it on whiteboards, and they have visibility to everything else they are using our system for and he says, "Yeah, we're having to have an hourly meeting, just to get updates and somebody happened to go around and capture all the numbers manually". I'm sure they're. I'm sure they're removing all the pens and the erasers off those whiteboards and the check paper checklists that they're handling, they're licking and handing to them. This is the best thing for digitization and removing paper ever. Because the papers have all been thrown away right now. That was infected. Infected paperwork, wouldn't want to touch that ever again.


Keith Barr  

I think there's something to be said about the transparency and what you mentioned about the manual processes being expected or required in order to establish a discipline. I think people have a misconception that the success that people have had in doing these manual processes and the immediate success that they've had, means it's the manual process. And that's a mistake. I think you're mistaken perception, the influence and the view or observation, pure observation of a supervisor, observing someone's work, changes their behavior. It's the Hawthorne effect that we're probably familiar with. That Hawthorne effect exists as long as manual processes or projects are being run, but as soon as they leave, it always evaporates. And it's because that Hawthorne effect goes away with it. And the interesting thing about a digital environment is that transparency is there all the time. And the personal accountability is there a little bit all the time, and that's driving this perpetual Hawthorne effect with the workforce. That's why I think there's so much sustainability after  we deploy our system because they're able to use that, they find value in it because the information they put in has value to them. And it's providing this transparency at a level that supervisors and managers never had before because they're seeing everything someone does, as opposed to, just what was getting reported to them.


Eric Whitley  

Now Bob and I just got off a meeting here a little while ago, where we were talking about how it really is oh, Tyler was on that meeting too. Sorry, Tyler. But we really were talking about when we drive value to the user, when they can see, that's when they're going to use the system. It's not whether it's easy because it's a card or it's easy, because it's a one button push, it's that when you drive, when people see the value of something, they're going to use it out on the shop floor.


Keith Barr  

So we hear from customers all the time that they have this digital transformation strategy, and they're typically focused on automation and in the core, back office systems that they have, and the person in the people movement that are making sure that things run and that are solving the problems on the plant floor that digitizing that element has this huge value, because now they can tell exactly what's causing the performance impacts and they will solve that stuff. And when that's got value to an individual, you know, someone who's out there working the line, he says, You know what, if I solve this problem, it helps me, now I really care about solving problems. It's fun to watch the funnest job I've ever had.


Eric Whitley  

Bob, what if people told you like, how is this whole situation that we're dealing with right now, how has it transformed the factory floor? Hae you heard any, I know that was one of the questions that we asked, how has this transformed the way that you're doing business?


Bob Argyle  

Well, a lot of our customers are lean, they practice lean and so they're big proponents of it. Going to the gimba, going to the production floor and they can't. So that's been a big change. But they are getting the notifications so they know what's going on. They know what the problems are and they're using their mobile devices and stuff to communicate through FaceTime, or Skype or whatever. I actually had a phone call today, and that was brought up. Yeah, I can't go do management by wandering, I can't go to the gimba but actually, I'm still going. The gimba has not changed. It's actually different. And so what I was told today is this may change things, not just during this virus, but going forward where I've lived the manual method, I've lived this different approach and I'm a major advocate for lean and there's nothing more lean than having a digital lean system. Because it takes out all the waste, everything's happening automatically, people are getting notified, managers know where to go on the production floor where the serious issues are instead of just "head out on the floor and just go find something". 


Tyler Whitaker  

Bob, are you suggesting that the main inhibitor to lean thinking is the level of effort to do lean? 


Bob Argyle  

Yeah, absolutely. I think it is, you know, people don't like to do things that are cumbersome, I get it, you know, the value of having somebody, put a number on a board. But as soon as there's no value in it, like nothing happens from it and then we start adding more manual things to it and it becomes more cumbersome. Then you start to lose people. 


Tyler Whitaker  

Well, people are practicing lean and are seeing that that's wasted time and they give up and start cutting lean out because it's too much time and effort.


Bob Argyle  

It's a waste.


Keith Barr  

Well, I think it's the age we live in too. We're all enabled, we have unparalleled access to information through our handheld devices in our home computers and tablets. And I think the ability for us to affect our own personal world through things like home shopping, or doing our own research and watching videos and things like that, or enhancing our own education both on a professional level as well as a hobby level. Those things are very powerful information, things that you have to put in the fingertips of people in their work life as well. And in focusing on enhancing that experience and augmenting a user's experience, to where they have more things that they can use as tools in their toolbox to solve problems and create innovation. That's what gives you leverage, the human brains that are out on the platform. We're not going to define everything and expect them to work in some box or limitations and expect any kind of improvement or innovation. We're already seeing that the new generations coming into manufacturing just won't. They don't do those manual methods.


Eric Whitley  

And who takes up the software quicker than the younger generation right now?


Keith Barr  

They're living that every day, they're already collaborating electronically, right? They're already socializing electronically. They're already you know, accessing big data. I mean, it's all there already.


Eric Whitley  

Tyler what do you see as some of the issues people are going to have from working remotely or working at home. Stuff like that? And what have you seen over the years with that?


Tyler Whitaker  

Yeah, so it's definitely a culture shift and it takes a little bit of getting used to. There's a couple of things that we've learned over the last 10 years that I think have been game changers for us. The first one, being present. When you're working remote as a manager, you're worried, "hey, are my people even working?", "Are they there?" So tools like Slack and Skype, where you can get some indication of whether they're actually on their computer or not and within the touch of a button, you can be in their ear talking to them or pull up a video channel with them. That goes a long way to helping you understand if people are around. In our Slack channel set up, we've got a channel called locations and it helps us to let people know when you're going to be away from your keyboard, when you're going to be going to lunch or when you're taking a little break or when you're in a meeting. So people just put a little post in there and it provides some context that we're missing because I can't look out my office door and see that they're sitting at their desk in their office. And so we kind of replace that. Another thing that's really key for us is that there's no water cooler, right? And business is all about relationships inside and out. And one of the things we've recognized as a company is that at the top of every meeting, we need to have some friendly banter. We need to understand what's going on in people's lives. You know, the running joke is how was your weekend? It's Thursday morning, and somebody asked me how was your weekend, you know, but we're sharing parts of our lives with each other. So that we have some context for where people are at, what's their mentality? Are they having a good day or having a bad day? Did their dog just eat their kid's homework and now they are scrambling with this homeschooling environment. It helps you know what's going on. But I think that injects an element of humanity back into this work from home, remote life that we live. 


Tyler Whitaker  

Well, we have slack channels just for sharing things that have nothing to do with work. Some of them are pretty interesting, but it makes it fun, a lot of what gets shared there is, you know, people, you know, employees are showing what their kids are doing ,or their dog or how big a fish you caught. 


Eric Whitley  

Well I think it's the ability to interject a little humanity into the whole deal because everybody has their own personality. I find it very refreshing as somebody who participates in that, that I can kind of interject my personality a little bit, you know, into the end of the conversation and do that remotely. 


Keith Barr  

But I think it's important too, because people get to know one another a lot better, right? They see things about their families and the hobbies they're interested in and things and it just helps people understand that, hey, they're there, they have their life too. And, you know, that really promotes a lot of patience with one another, I think, at times, and unless it lets them communicate about a lot more things in a very direct manner than they would normally. So I think it's a great facilitator.


Tyler Whitaker  

I think it's an interesting thing to note that in a corporate office environment, that feels a whole lot like wasting time, right? It feels a lot like I'm doing something on company time. I think when you get into work from a home environment like this, you recognize the actual value to productivity for the ability to socialize with your co-workers and being able to understand where they're coming from as a human first and as a colleague second. And so I think there's probably a lot of people out there that are trying to understand this now and come to terms with the idea that, hey, that we are social beings, we need to be able to interact with each other. We need to be able to understand more than just surface level, work discussions. Yeah, the other thing I've, I've realized is and to be honest with you, these guys know this when we started doing this work from home thing, I had a hard time with it because I used to go into an office every day and was used to sitting around a table have a meeting, but it's grown on me for sure. And one of the things that it you know, right out of the gates that I noticed was how much easier it was on the off hours to engage people and things. So, you know, if there is a crisis or an issue that we need to deal with, and it's 10 o'clock at night, I mean, our teams get there. I mean it's easy to get the troops together and quickly and deal with things. So it's a much different environment. You know, I think some people worry that when people are working from home, they're not as productive. But what we see is people are putting in more hours, and they would have the opposite.


Eric Whitley  

I actually think, I think, much more productive, because you're more willing to, you know, if you're, if your grandkid has a school program, and you know, and you know that you can take that hour in the middle of the day and go to the program, you're willing to give back the hour and a half or two hours in the evening, because you're so you know, you're grateful that you had that time to be able to go do that when it happened, you know,


Tyler Whitaker  

Sometimes at 10pm my head is clear and it's a good time to get stuff done. 


Eric Whitley  

You guys know me. I'm always sending things out at one o'clock.


Eric Whitley  

It seems like my brain turns on at like 9pm suddenly.


Keith Barr  

I started leaving my phone in my office so it wouldn't be dinging from Eric’s posts and stuff at one in the morning. 


Eric Whitley  

Yeah, this has been awesome. You guys have anything else to add to our conversation here. Any other thoughts about this whole situation?


Keith Barr  

The one thing I would say is there. You know, this has been a significant challenge for a lot of companies as a result of the crisis. And the most important thing in the most important value that's coming from all of this work at home is that people are being protected from, hopefully, a fate much worse, right? I mean, this virus is having a very devastating effect and a lot of communities and  a lot of families because it's something that we're probably not going to get away from. But I think providing that insulation in the short term by being able to let people work away from one another. And work from home is a very powerful way of saying, “hey, we really do care about you as an employee, and we do care about your family and protecting yourself”. So we're glad to be a part of that, for sure. And also, you know, work hard that will always work hard to make sure we can help our customers achieve that.


Tyler Whitaker  

Yeah. I think it's probably important to think about this in terms of expanded capabilities within your business, right? You're being forced to find a new normal find, maybe more optimal ways to work in your environment. And based on the numbers we see the developments that we're seeing, hopefully we pull out of this in the near term, but there's no guarantee that we won't slip back into it at some point in the future. And so I think people needed to take this as an opportunity to really invest in digital transformation. And the ability to have this kind of work remote capability, put these kinds of systems like ours in place so that you can weather any storm into the future, right? Because if this comes back in six months, or a year, or two or three years, right, there's not going to be an excuse anymore. Well, it's never happened before. You know, we didn't need no, you know, yeah. I mean, the, the world's changed, you know, we need to keep up with it. And I think systems like cloud dispatch, or LMS platform, really need to be at the top of people's minds to be able to compete in the, in the new normal, right? We're coming up with some pretty clever things and clever ideas on how we can do more things remotely. I mean, we've spent a lot of time with our customers. training them on new things looking at their data. And we're going hey, you know what? There's, you know, there's a lot we could do here to help our customers out. That doesn't require us getting on a plane and going busy.


Eric Whitley  

Yeah. Which is more efficient,


Tyler Whitaker  

Way more efficient, cheaper. We talked about that a lot in the past, and now we're happy that we have it.


Eric Whitley  

Yeah, you guys know, I mean that this is a great example. I mean, my wife has a brick and mortar store that she owns and in the last two weeks, she has put her online store on the fast track. So for three years, we've been talking about doing this online store and then now in two weeks, then that sucker is up and running. It has done the same thing to a lot of other businesses, it has forced them to fast track the adoption of technology. 


Keith Barr  

Yeah, there's no doubt there'll be a lot of new business models out there.


Eric Whitley  

Yeah, no doubt.


Eric Whitley  

All right, you guys, thanks a bunch. Thanks for your time. Thanks for your time on a Friday afternoon.



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