Preparation for Lean Manufacturing
Every manufacturing company seems to be trying to adapt, invent and master the Lean Philosophy by Toyota Corporation. Lean manufacturing has also been transferred to non-manufacturing industries. Unfortunately, many companies don’t quite understand the true meaning of Lean Manufacturing. Simply put, Lean Manufacturing improves your processes continuously to eliminate waste. It sounds simple, but many companies will not really become Lean because they do not have an environment to implement and maintain Lean.
Most people believe Lean is just a set of tools (One Piece Flow, JIT, Kan-Ban, 5S, Six-Sigma, Kaizen Teams, Push / Pull Systems, etc.) that can be used to cut waste. However, lean is not just a set of tools, it’s a culture. If a company has serious problems with employee turnover, employee morale, product quality, product delivery, equipment time, plant housekeeping, etc., it will be very difficult to shift employees to a new way of thinking and business . In other words, if your employees are in constant fire-fighting mode, they will not be able to properly implement Lean.
First, solve the obvious problems.
To prepare for Lean, you first have to solve the obvious problems. Many times, employers will know exactly what the problems and solutions are. They just don’t have the time, resources or incentive to fix them. If you have a car that continually breaks down due to a bad transmission, make it right! Repair or replace the transfer. Do not implement a lean strategy to fix the car. Just do it right. Lean is not used to solve broken processes. Lean is used to continually improve work processes to eliminate waste. When all the obvious issues are fixed on the vehicle, it’s time to fine-tune it to become more efficient. It’s time to look at ways to cut waste (costs) to finally save money!
A Word About Six-Sigma
Some companies now require Six-Sigma to be used to solve problems. Unfortunately, Six-Sigma is not always used correctly. Six-Sigma is designed to solve complex problems that have many variables that cause variation in a process that ultimately causes defects. Six-Sigma uses statistics to systematically identify what the different variables in the process do and indicate possible solutions. It eliminates guesses that cause the variations. Again, correct the obvious problems. Many problems need not be analyzed to find solutions. In many cases, the solutions are obvious: ie If the bulb is blown, change the bulb.
Value Your People
Association usually refers to companies as entities. We’re talking about IBM, GM, and Microsoft as entities; however, they are truly groups of people. GM does not build cars, employees of GM build cars.
To develop the culture as successfully as Toyota Corporation has, companies must first realize that they need to develop, nurture and value their employees. To build a culture of people who want to continually improve, people need to do their job. They should be appreciated by the company. They should feel they are being noticed and rewarded for their contributions. Eventually, the company must appreciate with low employee turnover to create consistency. A company with a high employee turnover cannot maintain a successful Lean environment.
Promoting this type of environment in today’s business world is not easy. There is a low loyalty between US companies and their employees for various reasons. Some companies regard employees as an expense rather than an asset that can be easily cut. If employees of a company do not feel that the company appreciates them, they will find other jobs. With today’s business world, it is difficult to implement a long-term Lean strategy. Yes, a company can dictate to its employees to use Lean tools to waste waste, but retaining that long-term ideology must be a reliable, loyal, consistent workforce.
Develop and retain strong leaders
Good managers are coaches, poor drivers are dictators. A good manager will believe in the team concept where every member of the team is important and his / her opinions are valued. A good manager will appreciate his / her employees and realize that for him / her to be successful, the team must be successful. A poor manger will dictate to his / her employees, causing havoc! A good, efficient business unit with high employee formation will fall apart within weeks if a poor manager has taken over. Poor managers fail because they do not have strong leadership skills. They do not have human skills, communication skills, decision-making skills and delegation skills needed to develop and maintain effective teams. A strong leader must sell the Lean strategy and realize that eventually employees as a team are the ones to make it happen.
Think and do world class (even if it is not there!)
To become Lean, become world class. If you are in a facility that has an unclean, disorganized work environment, you know that it has not entered a world-class facility. There is no need to look at the productivity numbers to determine if the facility is world class or not. If a plant is world-class, it looks world-class as soon as you walk in the door.
A Lean facility is well organized. Each process is clearly defined by standards. Production is run via very clear visual management. A true World Class facility has the discipline to maintain organization. Outside auditors, potential customers and employees will be turned off if the work environment is not clean and organized. Keeping a work area clean and organized is simple; However, many companies ignore this simple task.
Make decisions based on logic and not politics.
Most of the decisions taken are implemented by senior management without questioning whether or not the decisions are made. Too many times decisions are made by senior management without fully understanding the process and issues. Lower level managers ultimately implement ideas and strategies that are not logic-based, but politics. They will implement ideas even if they do not believe in them. This can create many problems that make implementation of Lean Strategies difficult.
Decisions must be made throughout the organization through effective communication. Senior management should not only mandate, but sell their ideas and be open to questioning and suggestions from lower level managers. Senior management must fully understand the issues and processes by effectively communicating with managers at different levels. Important decisions where possible should be made as a team against an individual.