One of the biggest highlights of our trip was a cigar factory tour. Not only was it interesting, but it gave tremendous insight into the life of an average Cuban (and also what it’s like to work in a Communist country).
As a person who studies process in large organizations and consults on how to deliver software faster, watching people work within the predefined limits of the cigar industry was immensely educational.
In order to successfully complete their job every day, each person in the factory must produce 300 cigars, which works out to roughly 1 cigar every minute; there are some people in this particular factory who can roll 3 cigars per minute.
It doesn’t matter how much time it takes — 300 hundred cigars need to be produced. If you finish by noon, then the rest of the day is yours…
It was interesting to watch different groups of people work. Each person organized their work space in such a way to decrease the amount of time it takes to roll each cigar.
Older more experienced cigar makers were fast and were so focused that they didn’t notice the noise or distractions around them. Some could roll, sort and press while putting on make-up or lighting a cigarette.
Younger cigar rollers often collaborated in teams to work faster — dividing the process and capitalizing on each others strengths. As we arrived at midday, there was a team of two young men who had just finished for the day.
There were other roles too — the people who washed the tobacco leaves, a person to sort the cigars by colour, a person to put them in boxes, a person to add stickers, and quality checkers.
Cigar production is quality based. It’s true that there were people who could roll cigars quickly, but there was no sacrifice on quality. At every stage in the process there was a person checking the workmanship.
At the end of the process, we were told (and I could have misheard) that the final quality checker needed to have blue eyes. I’m not sure why — and if it was only at this particular factory — but I believe it was said that this is an important tradition.