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In just four years of use, even this process has been evaluated and improved. In 2004, all team leaders were first responders, and they used paper logs to track events. Today the facility has a small cadre of dedicated responders who collect information on PDAs. While this tool is used across the auto industry, Clark believes Blue Bird is unique in the bus business. “It is the best tool for learning,” he continued. “It solves problems, contains issues, and creates a learning environment.” Andon also appears to be the best tool for driving out defects; as Andon events have increased, defects per unit have decreased. Blue Bird North Georgia recorded 12,697 Andon events in 2007 and the number of defects per unit dropped from 40 in January to 10 in December. “Employees know there is no penalty to pull it,” McKinney said. “They understand the more you do it, the more you can address issues now.” Blue Bird North Georgia is dedicated to ensure all of its employees understand their value, importance, and responsibilities as part of the team. Under the leadership of general manager Kevin Wood, the facility has developed “Bus University” which is focused on orientation, training, and cross training. Within the “university” are “schools” for each trade; for example, paint school, rivet school, and hand tools school. In these schools, new employees undergo skills training after 30 hours of orientation and become proficient in their area on mock-up buses. “Once upon a time they had to learn on a customer’s bus,” Clark said. As it is still relatively new, there is much potential for Bus University. “It is not just an application for new employees,” he said, “but available for associates who want to grow.” McKinney noted that so far, Blue Bird North Georgia has seen this program have direct impact on its safety program as well as turnover rates within the trades. Last year the facility won Blue Bird’s parent Traxis President’s Award for its safety efforts and is already on pace for another great year. “We had only seven recordables in 2007 and so far this year just three,” he said. In terms of turnover, the facility discovered lack of training was a root cause in some occupations, and the Bus University application is addressing that directly. “We needed to train them better,” McKinney said, “and now we are creating a crosstrained team to provide a back log of multiple skilled associates.” Blue Bird North Georgia also uses kaizen events to help it continue to improve its productivity. “We keep getting stretched by the company,” Clark said. “We have a goal of 100 percent this year for productivity. Last year we ran at 96.3 percent so we were looking at a four percent increase, but we are currently meeting that goal this year.” Two types of kaizen event are in use. First are “breakthrough” events that use cross-functional teams and last a month or more. Clark said the facility sees six to eight of those each year. Secondly, the ones done at the department, cell, or individual level, which are often tough to track as 52 May 08

are allowed to ask questions and make comments. At the end of the meeting, the staff members leave the room and the employees fi ll out surveys. “Good companies ask their employees, but great companies fi gure out how to respond,” said Clark. “Any question gets an answer and they are posted for everyone to see. We are giving honest answers and people appreciate that.” All of these efforts are gaining Blue Bird North Georgia national recognition. In 2005 and 2006 it was selected by Industry Week as a top 25 fi nalist, and in 2007 it was named in the top ten. It is currently in the running for a national Shingo prize as well. In fact, the reviewers said they believe the facility has one of the “best applications” of the Andon tool. Clark and McKinney both said this type of external review is benefi cial. “It isn’t just to fl y the fl ag,” Clark said. “We haven’t always found out good things, but we learn from everything.” May 08 53 many employees don’t seek recognition. “They don’t look to take credit,” McKinney said. “We still have to educate them to take credit for what they do.” But staff members can often see where improvements have been made, and record these in a “witness book.” More than 40 of these types of kaizen events were recorded last year. And employees are recognized when suggestions they make through the facility’s Employee Suggestion Program Network are put into action. “The eighth form of waste is to not use your employees’ brainpower,” commented Clark. Blue Bird North Georgia encourages suggestions and open communication with all of its employees. Each week, twelve are selected at random to attend a round table discussion with staff members. At these weekly events, the employees are given an update of what has happened in the past seven days and then they BlueBirdNorthGeorgia