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  • Writer's pictureJoost van de Loo

Factory Mime: a different way to talk about pain points

Updated: Oct 3, 2021

Issues of One high tech factory explained in 6 simple hand signs.

A CSK factory worker mimes a message about size

When we reflect on an experience, one moment tends to stands out. Usually it's the best moment or the worst, or the end. Or the most special. But what is special? What makes memorable moments memorable? And what makes them effective? To learn about impact, I study moments that stay with you. Here's what I've learnt from the Factory Mime.

The moment

The size of an Edam cheese

I'm crouching besides Wiebe, process technologist at CSK food enrichment. We're enveloped by the sound of a towering fermentation installation hugged by steel tubing. I look up and Wiebe seems to be holding the entire installation between his hands. It's like that iconic tourist snapshot in Paris, of people 'holding' the Eiffel Tower. When I step back, Wiebe continues the mime. He goes from big, to small. The space between his hands becomes the size of an Edam cheese. I don't really know what he's telling us, but the good thing is: his manager does.

The context

To prepare for an offsite board meeting about strategic focus and resource allocation, Wiebe's manager, the Operations Director, had asked me to make an impact video about Royal Dutch CKS's new production plant. The factory is a crown jewel. All the famous Dutch cheeses get their taste and textures from bacterial cultures made by CSK. And all these cultures are produced in this state-of-the-art facility that was recently opened with great fanfare. So all is good, but there are also still a few minor technical issues that need some time and attention. Like a new suit that needs tailoring to fit perfectly. The Operations Director wants to convey to this to the board without getting bogged down in details. "How do I give them a feel for this factory?", he asked. The answer was to team up with workers. We asked factory workers to each point out one thing they would love to see bettered.

The impact

How it feels to deal with the same issue every day.

At the offsite, the Operations Director announced to his fellow board members that he stood before them as a detective. He said he had conducted an investigation with one question in mind: "Why are some of our best workers less than delighted by our new factory?" Then he presented his findings: a series of simple impact videos from the factory floor, each accompanied by a physical object ('evidence') and a description of how it feels to deal with the same issue every day.

It ended with a warm and lively discussion about what could be done to make these issues go away for Wiebe and the others. Even the CFO was brainstorming technological ideas.

Summary: tell the story of people affected by the situation

First comes experience, then comes thinking.

It can be a real pain to interest others for difficult things that are important, but not acute. For most people it is easy to admire a Tesla or marvel at Artificial Intelligence. But it's much harder to relate to the processes and technology in our factories. Especially if there doesn't seem to be a crisis or a need for dramatic change.

So what if this is your job: create enthusiasm and support for gradual improvement and prevention? The three things I learnt from Factory Mime are:

1. Always ask yourself: who are the people affected by this situation? Our presentation had impact because we brought people into the picture. Instead of sharing a deck with facts and figures, the Operations Director told a classic investigation story: "Here's a situation that affects people, and here's what's going to happen if that doesn't change - and here's what we can do about it."

2. Keep it light and simple, in proportion to the challenge.

This was a situation that needed attention, but was not grave or calamitous. So we used hand signs and mime gestures that had a comic effect. They also worked as visual icons that made it easy to remember and talk about the different issues.

3. Save the technical details for the Q&A. Once the Factory Mime had made its impact, it became much easier to share and discuss technical details. Suddenly the board was eager to learn more. Because first comes experience, then comes thinking, feeling, believing and behaving.

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