Visiting more than 40 factories all over the world this year, I have seen both good and not-so-good practices for hosting factory visits. In this post, I share some learning points: here are ten best practices for factory tours.
#1 Provide information on the web
A visit to a factory starts before the visit. General information about the company and the tour should be accessible online. If your factory produces products with particular interest in the consumer market (for example, Harley Davidson, Haribo, Toyota, or Pilsner Urquell), a professional factory visit web page is needed. Some factory-intensive districts even offer own portals for “industrial tourism” (such as this example from York, Pennsylvania). Although most people do not care about most factories, all factories should take pride in being welcoming for a wide array of interested parties; other companies, owners, employees’ families, students, politicians and—most importantly—customers. A good start would be to provide proper instructions online for how to get to the factory.
#2 Safety first, but don’t exaggerate
Nothing really says “I care about you” more than a strong and visual focus on safety in a factory. Safety information can be handed out at the reception, together with needed safety equipment such as shoes, glasses, ear plugs, and safety vests. Some companies show a safety video (and some even require the visitors to take a written safety exam afterwards…) Use clean safety glasses for the visitors, not the ones that the operators threw away some years ago. Walking paths can be designated in the factory—at least in areas with enhanced safety risks. Some plants elevate the safety issue beyond sanity: if ear plugs are not needed, don’t enforce the use of them. When visitors barely hear what is being said, ear plugs just introduce annoyance and a new safety risk. Another advice: please, see if you can get hold of something a bit more stylish than an oversize fluorescence “visitor” vest. Nobody feels on top of the world as a huge living reflex… But again: Safety first!
#3 Start with an introduction
Help the visitor understand the plant. Nothing should be more straight forward than telling the fundamental story of the plant; when and why did it start up, how may employees work there today, what products does it produce to which markets, is it a growing or declining market, what are the prospects, why is this the best plant in the world, and why is the plant very happy to have you as a visitor. Some good plants I have visited, have made this story-telling easy by displaying it in the reception area. A general presentation of the factory should also always be available. Or like they do in Harley Davidson in York; start with a video presentation of the company and the plant. In any case; start with an introduction.
#4 Display your products
If you have good products (which of course you have), then show them. If you have complex products, show a cross-section of some of them. A transmission manufacturer I visited in Sweden displayed their transmissions cut in half with plexiglas as windows into the interior. An engine manufacturer in Japan did the same, and even colored the different channels of the engine to explain the paths for fluids and air. Vehicle manufacturers often park the coolest of their products outside. Nidar chocolate factory in Trondheim, Norway, gives the visitors unlimited access to samples of goodies directly from the line. And, unbeaten to this day, the Samuel Adams Brewery in Boston invites to free flow of freshly brewed beer after the free-of-charge old brewery tour. Display your products.
#5 Appearance matters
Yes I know; all those Toyota-gurus and lean-fanatics run around and tell us that we have all misunderstood 5S as a “cleaning program”. “In Japan it is not neat and clean”, they tell us, “it is all about functionality”. Well, they’re wrong: Appearance matters! In my opinion, how it looks is a proxy for how well-run the factory is. If it looks good, it probably is good. Cleanliness also means something for how attractive it is to work in the factory. It is fairly simple to “pimp my plant”: Some white painting on the walls, proper floors, and good lightening conditions help much in making the place appear much better. Some plants are extremely good in giving an unforgettable impression using tricks like this. One good example is Aarbakke AS, a Norwegian supplier to the offshore oil and gas industry located in Jæren, Norway. Aarbakke has painted the plant in its corporate colors red and white. On the shop floor there are orange trees that grows due to the heat from the machines (in Norway!). The cranes after named after local soccer heroes, and a jacuzzi and the CEO’s own Rolls Royce car are freely available for all employees. This is not just a play for the gallery: a nice plant sells more products. Appearance matters, more than many believes.
#6 Be proud and loud
Who should be proud of your plant if not you and the plant itself? Let the plant shine and tell all the visitors that this is the best place to work in the world. This point starts and ends with the employees. Nobody can be better—or worse—ambassadors for a plant. If employees are smiling and hospitable, a factory visit cannot end badly. If they are overly stressed and have no free time on their hands, the impression will never be top-notch. To get such employees requires leadership with respect for the individual. A good canteen serving healthy food can be a visual symbol of this capability. (Once I heard that “we do not even have a canteen here; the management does not take us serious”). Another simple strategy to increase the pride of the plant is to hang up huge and power-radiating product ads in the facilities. Americans are often best at this. Be more American; be proud and loud.
#7 Organize the shop-floor tour
Number seven is obvious: organize the shop-floor tour. Know where to start and where to end. Either walk up the value stream or down the value stream. I prefer down. You do not have to show the worst areas in the plant, but leaving an impression that something is purposefully hidden away, is maybe worse than seeing it all. Handing out a map of the layout and tour route, and a feedback form for the plant’s own improvement, are good practices. Also know that all employees do not like to be on display every day. That should be respected. As far as possible allow photos to be taken, but don’t turn it into a photo safari (a good alternative that I have yet to see, is to offer a set of professional photos on a CD or USB stick after the visit). If your plant turns into a real industry celebrity and a tour-pro, a good idea can be to employ retired workers as tour guides. Usually, many of them would love to help out. Even if most plants doesn’t get to that celebrity status, they can still organize the shop-floor tour properly.
#8 Display your problems
The eight practice is not that obvious: Display your problems. A plant that displays its problems also displays openness and a serious strategy to become even better. White boards with information about key performance criteria—both good and bad—shows a healthy and living management. Note that these boards should better be updated and relevant. Nothing says “I don’t give a shit” quite like management boards that are outdated, dusty, and not in use. Show your kaizen activities. Nobody is perfect. In a state-of-the-art Renault Truck factory in France, all defect products are showcased in the the middle of the factory, not hidden away in a dark and inaccessible storeroom. Show that you care to improve—by displaying your problems.
#9 Be generous
Be generous—others are. It is fully OK not to offer free snacks or coffee. But because many plants do, your plant will appear like “an uncle Scrooge of manufacturing”. If your business model is to make the absolute cheapest products with the absolute minimum amount of resources, that can be a genius strategy. In all other cases it is not. Free give-always have never hurt a company’s reputation (like beer at Samuel Adams in Boston, and chocolate souvenirs at Lindt in Zürich). A cost-benefit analysis cannot be applied to subtle gestures like this. What goes around, comes around, I would say. Be generous.
#10 Stand out
Be unique. Do something that makes the factory stand out from the crowd. How many factories are there in the world, and why should the visitor remember exactly yours? Please offer something unique to remember. It can be a small thing, like a shoe-free slippers-zone (a Japanese factory I visited) or a tea-ceremony (Saudi-Arabian plant), or huge things, like three enormous wind mills at a CO2-neutral automotive plant (a Belgian factory I visited), the futuristic BMW factory in Leipzig, or being known for being the most effective one (like Toyota in Toyota-shi or Nissan in Newcastle). Don’t be a day-fly; stand out!
Have you ever come across any other best practices for hosting factory visits? Or are there any factories that just have to be mentioned in this regard? If so, please let me know.