Friday, May 30, 2014

LEAN . . . Is An Evolution, Not A Revolution

We’re often asked about a typical lean journey, “What does it look like?” and “How long does it take?” While the answers range anywhere from "every situation is unique" to "there is no typical ’journey'," we do have a few steps that are essential for a successful lean implementation.
Step 1: Create the environment and introduce the basics

A Lean approach can seem foreign and quite disruptive to traditional organizations. Often it is disregarded as the 'flavor of the month' and rarely takes hold or continues past its introduction. This underlying feeling plus the human nature to do it the way you always have done it makes it extremely important to be committed to the process. Change is often accompanied by fear. Regarding Lean, A significant part of that fear is the notion that it will introduce extra trivial work (paperwork, using color code cards and containers, etc.) or will result in layoffs and staffing reductions.

In creating a Lean environment, it is important to assuage these fears and concerns. As adults it is documented that we learn best through hands-on action. Therefore MMTC has developed a number of hands-on simulations that teach the principles of Lean in an easy to understand way.

Step 2: Understand the Current State and create a success

Even in small companies, there may be hundreds of improvement opportunities. This is often overwhelming which is the root cause for failure to implement. A core aspect of Lean is engaging employees in the dialogue for improvements. Once the team grasps the basics of Lean (Step 1), it is important to begin to exercise this new skill. We suggest establishing (or in many cases dusting off) a suggestion box. 

The other aspect of understanding the current state, is knowing the best way to build Lean within the organization and grow the Lean culture. Many of our clients begin with 5S because of its high visibility. However, it is difficult to establish a Return on Investment (ROI) with a 5S project. So if part of your quest in growing a Lean culture is to show ROI to upper management, then 5S might not be the best initial application. 

MMTC’s Transformation Planner is a great tool to identify areas to focus on for improvement. This proprietary tool compares some of your key data against data collected from our nationwide database of similar companies. The report gives you a comparison on where you rate on 12 key measurables. We also offer a Waste Walk program designed to help identify “low hanging fruit” to assist in a Lean culture transformation.

Step 3: Establish a Strategic Plan

Step 3 could actually be called Step 2.5. In true lean fashion, after the groundwork is laid in step 1, the remaining process steps are completed concurrently. The reason why we call it Step 3 is because of teh evolutionary process of Lean. It's not a revolution. Therefore having a strategic plan helps exercise and cultivate Lean by showing quick successes and ongoing support. 

It is important to have a strategic Lean plan that supports the company’s mission and vision. There are many different approaches to establishing a Strategic Lean Plan (Leadership in Action, True North, Hoshin, Shingo, etc). While each is unique, they all establish a prioritized guideline, anticipated ROI and seeks to allocate required resources. MMTC can help you determine which approach might best fit your needs. 

Step 4: Do it

With all due respect to Nike, while this sounds simple, in reality it can be extremely difficult. This is the second biggest cause of failure in implementing a Lean culture. "Doing it" means allocating extra time to work on Lean initiatives. Finding extra time in today’s world when everyone is wearing multiple hats isn’t easy. This is why it is best to tackle some of the low hanging fruit first to gain momentum. This helps motivate people to find that extra time. 

A recommendation we constantly make to clients is “Schedule it”. You can’t make extra time, it must be scheduled. This shows its importance to the organization. Schedule doesn’t just mean on your outlook calendar, but scheduled throughout the organization. How can you improve flow around the machine if the employees are still expected to produce at their current rate? 

Another inherent issue with "doing it", is yielding to current situations. It is easy to get caught up in the daily routine, fighting the proverbial fire, and not attending internal update meetings or submitting timely findings. Instead, you push it out a week or two later when dealing with colleagues, thus ultimately undermining and impeding the growth of a Lean culture in the organization. 

Therefore many of MMTC’s clients have asked us to be the guardian of Lean culture growth. As an outside observer, it’s easier to step in and ‘play the heavy’ or serve as ‘the cheerleader’ as needed, to sustain Lean efforts. It is far more difficult to justify delays in implementation or missed deadlines to an outside party then it is a colleague. We call this Lean Mentoring. We basically come to a client’s office on a scheduled basis to help keep projects moving and continue Lean education, with the intent to instill an internal motivation and commitment no longer dependent on external influence.

Step 5: Report and Audit

Now that you have done all this cost saving work, what good is it if you don’t monitor and audit it? This is key to growing and maintaining the Lean culture. If you don’t monitor what you have implemented, it is human nature to revert back to how things happened in the past. Monitoring conveys a commitment to the whole team that this isn’t the “flavor of the Month”. This is the new way of thinking and doing. As your Lean culture deepens and takes shape, success breeds success.

Follow these simple steps and see the positive impact and savings pile up.

If you have any questions contact MMTC. 

Since 1991, MMTC has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses compete and grow. Through personalized services fitted to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

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