Harley-Davidson: An Example Of Continuous Improvement

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Harley-Davidson: An Example Of Continuous Improvement 

My boyfriend and I love to ride the Harley along the Finger Lakes. We also both enjoy seeing how things are made. To that end, we decided to head over to York, PA to the Harley-Davidson Steel Toe Tour to get a “behind the scenes” view of the assembly line.


From the moment we arrived, I knew this business was going to be an example of continuous improvement implementation. I was immediately impressed by the organization and cleanliness of the plant. Next, was the level of service and happiness of the staff - One woman (a tour guide) was a retired school teacher and had been working at the plant for 17 years. 


Fred, our personal guide, had retired from the tool and die industry and was in his 15th year giving tours. (He was a pretty spry 82 years old, I might add!) They both exclaimed that their jobs didn’t feel like “work” and they truly still had a passion for the company after their many years of service. 


My business-oriented mind was curious to see just what Harley did to satisfy their staff.


Listening to the people on the line


One of the things that Fred shared, as we were proceeding along the edges of the factory during live assembly, was the fact that the leads of each station not only listen to the line workers’ suggestions, they implement them as well. 


Who better than the people at work to share feedback on how to improve systems, increase efficiency, and enhance overall working conditions? Brilliant!



Non-verbal communication to keep everyone on the same page


Throughout the super-efficient tour, we witnessed several non-verbal signs that kept everyone aware of exactly what was going on and when. One of which was their lighting system on certain pieces of equipment. White, red, amber and green lights at the top of each station had a significant meaning. The colors would appear if there was a problem on the line, a current issue being addressed, if all systems were in working order, and so forth.  


Another cool troubleshooting procedure was certain stations had a unique musical song that they turned on to signify if there was an issue and they needed an advisor. I liked this a lot and had never seen it implemented before. Instead of an annoying beep or buzzer which pushes everyone’s stress signals to high, they created an enjoyable way to send an alert when help was needed. Nice!


I’m sure many more internal signs and symbols were in place for effective communication, but the last one that I noticed was the extensive floor marking. 


Floor marking is a part of visual communication that helps delineate paths and deliver messages with shapes and lines on the floor. It increases safety, keeps things in an organized fashion, and improves efficiency in workspaces.




Kaizen…even for bikers


I’ve always been a lover of Kaizen; the Japanese name for continuous improvement systems. It is a daily, never-ending practice. I was so impressed at the level of how Harley-Davidson employed this philosophy.


From the precision each bike piece was laser cut, to automatic waste removal, recycling efforts, intense quality control, safety measures, team communication, and the company give back to the Muscular Dystrophy Association – one could learn a lot by modeling after this motorcycle manufacturer.


I’ll leave you with the Harley-Davidson’s vision statement:


“Harley–Davidson, Inc. is an action-oriented, international company, a leader in its commitment to continuously improve our mutually beneficial relationships with stakeholders (customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, government, and society).”


I saw this first-hand!


Until next time…breathe joy,


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