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4 things your team can learn from an assembly line

4 things your team can learn from an assembly line

By Paul Musters (Fortify)

My first job as a teenager was working an assembly line over the summer holidays. There were 3 lines where people did the exact same thing: removing products out of a vacuum package, clean said products, and then repackage them: 960 each day. After a couple of days I asked my manager to try a new method in one part of the line, because I saw the opportunity to speed things up. It felt like a totally wrong idea, because my boss didn’t even consider it. After a few more attempts I gave up.

The next summer holiday I started the same job. This time as one of the managers of an assembly line. On the first day I noticed that nothing had changed in the process. Only one thing was different: last year’s boss was on vacation. 

“On the first day I noticed that nothing had changed in the process.”

Start A/B testing your team performance

When I came home I started to draw the assembly line and all possible improvements I could think off. The next day I cycled to work early in the morning, tried out a few things, and convinced my colleagues on line 3 to change the cleaning part of the process. It was the beginning of my first A/B test :-).

After a few mistakes we got the new process under control. The first hour went down from an average of 120 boxes to around 80 and during the day we climbed up to almost 90 boxes per hour. But with 720 boxes instead of 960 after our 8-hour workday, nobody experienced any fulfillment and…we had to work over-time. Despite all my cheers and high fives during the day I only saw smiling faces from the people on line 1 and 2. But than something interesting happened: during our over-time, the whole team started to share their ideas for improvement.

“I sincerely believe that people are made to learn and improve. Don’t hold anyone back, let them find their opportunity.”

Involve everyone

The next day everyone in the team arrived early and we started testing out our ideas. Step by step we improved the process. We had a lot of fun and A lot went wrong: we demolished quite a few products because of our need for speed. Our grand total of that day: only 750 boxes. But… during our last hour everyone started to encourage each other and we re-packaged 130 boxes. We cracked the process!

And the best thing: No one on the other assembly lines noticed this. Until the next day, where we handled more than 140 boxes per hour and a total of 1140 that day! By the time our boss returned from his vacation, we had sped up the line from 960 to 1200, with multiple new ideas for further improvements.

A few weeks after my summer job had ended I met up with a few of my former colleagues. Our boss’s reaction? He thought it all was too risky and returned to the old routine.

What do I recommend everyone do?

See your employees as athletes and empower their talent:


  1. Experimenting is more meaningful than ego
  2. Failing on the short term is allowed
  3. Provide a platform for new ideas
  4. Create a safe atmosphere where people can speak, perhaps out of frustration, but always with a dream in mind.

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