This is both an excellent business case study and a fantastic morality tale.
Faced with pressure from overseas manufacturing, a group of managers and workers at Applicance Park in Kentucky worked together to reimagine their dishwasher manufacturing line and their machine's design. The Atlantic's Charles Fishman tells the story:
(They) put together a group that included hourly employees and told it to completely reimagine dishwasher assembly. The group was given this crucial guarantee: regardless of the efficiencies it created, “no one will lose their job because of lean.” So the dishwasher team remade its own assembly line. It eliminated 35 percent of the labor.
What happened to the workers who were no longer needed for dishwasher assembly? (They) created another team and asked them to pick a dishwasher part they thought Appliance Park should, once again, be making itself. The team picked the top panel of the door — appliance people call it the “dishwasher escutcheon.” It’s the part you grab to open and close the dishwasher, where all the controls and buttons are. If you use a dishwasher, you touch the escutcheon.
…That’s how the outsourcing cycle starts to turn. Once you begin making the product itself, you get the itch to make the parts, too.
So, what's the moral of the story? The moral of the story is that if you trust people and their own unique creativity, great things can happen.
Can you share any similar situations in your own jobs or companies where you empowered workers to make process changes in the supply chain to benefit the company?