Lean manufacturing, also known as the Toyota Production System, has enabled U.S. manufacturers to compete in the global marketplace.
Over the past 25 years, Lean has gone through a dramatic evolution from an obscure and isolated practice to a mainstream methodology. It is now a well-established thinking system for eliminating waste in processes while maximizing customer value. Lean philosophy and techniques are now used across industries in both production and service companies.
Lean is not a tactic or a cost reduction program, but a way of thinking and acting that empowers everyone in an organization to support positive changes that strengthen their operation and create value for the customer. Companies that truly apply lean thinking to their operations and processes can realize significant and sustainable benefits.
- Remove waste from internal processes, which results in happier, more productive employees and fewer resource-draining crises
- Fix the problems that create major headaches for staff and customers
- Realize better customer outcomes, better customer service and faster response times
- Respond to changing customer desires with high variety, high quality and low-cost products that are produced and delivered efficiently on schedule
- Lower operating costs across the supply chain
- Improve manufacturing productivity
- Reduce inventory
- Reduce floor space
- Enjoy safer and cleaner workspaces
- Actively engage their workforce with a continuous improvement mindset
- Produce higher quality products
- Improve delivery performance
- Maximize customer value
To achieve these kind of benefits, companies must move to new ways of thinking.
Lean thinking requires long-term perspective and perseverance. Done appropriately, lean thinking changes the focus from optimizing separate technologies and assets to optimizing the creation of products and services through value streams that flow across technologies, assets, and departments to the customer.
Unfortunately, most companies fall short in the training and team building that’s necessary to encourage the kind of strategic lean thinking that can bring about change.
So, what’s the best way?
Senior management and process leaders must first define how the company’s lean journey will contribute to the organization’s overall business objectives and build a strategy around it. The strategy must cultivate a sense of purpose and passion about your lean journey.
What are some of the ingredients in a solid lean strategy?
- Senior management is trained in lean practices and continually demonstrate their commitment and participation.
- Everyone sees and experiences senior management’s personal commitment, direction and engagement in the lean process.
- The lean program must be in alignment with business priorities.
- A governance structure, i.e. a steering committee, directs and oversees the lean program.
Deployment and communication strategies are well defined.
- Employees are actively trained to find and solve problems and take ownership of improvement solutions. Training helps them overcome any initial resistance to change and improve their problem-solving and analytical skills – a win win!
- Before-and-after outcomes of lean (Kaizen) events are measured.
What practices do successful lean companies employ?
- They implement ‘morning huddles’ and ‘gemba walks’ – lean practices that can include reviewing the company’s performance dashboards and forming teams to actively seek ways to eliminate identified problems.
- They empower employee initiatives by implementing and actively managing a suggestion system. The improvement idea system at Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing in Columbus, Indiana receives 1200-1600 suggestions per month. According to National Customer Center Manager Tom Lego, a vast number of these ideas are implemented within 30 days. Tom explains: “The key is supporting our associates’ ideas and giving them the respect they deserve.”
- They provide lean training at point-of-hire. They get new employees on-board with lean by involving them in their department’s ongoing lean activities.
- They dedicate a full-time resource, e.g. a lean office, that supports lean efforts across the organization.
- They internally communicate lean efforts often and through multiple channels: newsletters, emails, groups and company-wide meetings. They recognize and reward lean champions.
Cultivating a purpose and a passion will fuel your organization’s successful lean journey.
But you must keep the candle burning. With ongoing support from management, the lean process itself is one of continuous assessment and adjustment. The result: a transformation of how your organization does business that drives customer satisfaction, product or service excellence and financial rewards.
Daniel Penn Associates, LLC (DPA) has successfully helped clients implement lean thinking to eliminate waste, realize improved processes, operate more efficiently, create a culture of continuous improvement and manage change. We understand that a sustainable lean journey requires more than simply deploying all the proven lean tools and tactics and hoping for the best.
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If you are looking to refresh or start a lean program give us a call at 860.232.8577 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to understand your current situation and collaboratively develop an approach that best suits your lean goals.