Walk with Agility – Kanban Works… with Shoes!

“Not long ago, the production process at New Balance’s Norridgewock shoe factory spanned eight days…Today, the plant makes shoes in 70 minutes from start to finish, thanks to recently adopted production techniques pioneered by Toyota Motor Corp.”

It’s interesting to note some very special stats from New Balance:

  • The plant can make some 7,700 pairs of shoes daily with a staff of roughly 360.
  • A few years ago, Norridgewock had a “batch” production system, in which different sections of the production line worked largely independently, said Wentworth.
  • Executives learned the process at Toyota’s Georgetown, Ky., plant. Shoes now move down the line continuously, assembled in 44-second intervals (the goal is 38 seconds) by workers at 32 stations.
  • New Balance recently adopted a scheduling system called “kanban,” which means “sign” or “billboard” in Japanese.
  • Wilson said kanban matches demand, inventory and production, allowing the company to receive materials and make shoes at the same rate they are shipped.
  • New Balance eliminated some 35 jobs with the changes, but Wentworth said quality improved and production time dropped to 70 minutes. In addition, the plant eliminated $500,000 in inventory costs and is making shoes in less floor space.
  • Wilson said that although labor costs at the U.S. plants are more than 13 times higher than those in Asia, the domestic plants have an efficiency advantage.
  • “We are more than 13 times productive than they are,” he said.
  • Single piece flow” manufacturing also lets New Balance ship shoes on the same day they are made, meaning less wait time for customers, a competitive advantage in North America.
  • “If you make a shoe in Asia, the lead time is at least a month. And if you air freight it, it costs seven bucks or more a pair,” he said.
  • New Balance makes and ships the custom shoes immediately so they arrive anywhere in the country in four to eight days.

Looks like a major win for New Balance and kanban. Would it be biased to buy American-made shoes that are built in an Agile-like fashion? Meh. I think my next pair of shoes are going to be New Balance.

[HT: Online Sentinel]

12 Responses to “Walk with Agility – Kanban Works… with Shoes!”

  1. Derek Huether
    June 14, 2011 at 8:31 am #

    Not to overuse the idiom “walk the walk” to “talk the talk” about Kanban, but I would favor purchasing from a company that I knew leveraged agile or lean methods, compared to just doing it inefficiently and cheap. On a similar note, I would be really interested to know if (how) they leverage the late Eliyahu M. Goldratt’s Theory Of Constraints (TOC).

    • peter
      June 14, 2011 at 8:50 am #

      I’m biased. Imma buy me some New Balance as soon as my Nike wear out. Seriously. :)

      • Dave Gordon
        June 18, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

        I’ve been wearing NB’s for years. Velcro, instead of shoe laces – sneakers for folks who just want to get going.

        Highly recommended!

        • peter
          June 18, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

          :) Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Micaël Masse
    June 14, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    We see it more and more, people slightly begin to bought goods for company they respect only.
    Cost and quality is not more the only criteria.

    Now we also have the Customer support efficiency and appreciation. Some people consider the social responsibility and environment respect of the company they work for.

    We want a better world and we start considering it’s important to know that goods were made in a way to have a better world, less pollution, better human relations, better human respect of both clients, employees and society.

    I slip a little outside of the subject, but I think it’s related, we you start to check about what can be improve we often come in the field of how to work better with humans and achieve more from their potential.

    • peter
      June 14, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

      Agreed right? The more you know, the more you can make an informed decision

      • Micaël
        June 14, 2011 at 11:52 pm #

        Nice way to summarize it 😉 There is always grey zones, but every measure can be helpful to do better decisions.

  3. Jeff Anderson
    June 19, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    Awesome story, think I’m going to get some of them shoes.

    But do they also do Kanban/ other agile method to put their supporting software in place :)

    • peter
      June 19, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

      Exactly right? Good stuff here.

  4. Robb Dempsey
    June 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    Wonder if the name for their new line came out of their experience?


    I’ve been running in the MT100 for about a year and love them! Keep up the good work.

    • peter
      June 21, 2011 at 9:47 am #

      Maybe so. Minimal process, maximum performance!


  1. New PM Articles for the Week of June 13 –19 « The Practicing IT Project Manager - June 20, 2011

    […] you’ve been considering adding Kanban to your Agile toolset, Peter Saddington has a report from New Balance, where their staff is now so much more efficient than their Asian […]

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