Implementing lean techniques in manufacturing takes time and money; therefore, it is important to maximise the chances of getting it right and reaping the rewards. Let’s look at how to set out on a successful lean transformation programme.
Why are you implementing lean?
Lean has its roots in manufacturing – it grew from Toyota’s production system – so it should be easier to implement lean in manufacturing than in offices, provided the project has a sound basis and the teams are in alignment about why they are doing this. They need to know the reason before they even go on a training course; if they don’t, lean will fail at the first fence because the people who need to implement it will see it as just another management fad.
Explanations such as ‘our competitors are using it’ won’t motivate staff; in fact, if the only reason for using lean is that other people seem to like it, try a lean pilot in one discrete business area and then carry out a business audit to see whether it is something you want to progress.
What difference could it make to your specific business?
As an example, let’s say you run an air conditioning company and you employ a stock controller whose job is to order parts. They have to keep the company supplied with items such as steel spiral ducts. You know that installation teams are sometimes held up because you don’t have a steel spiral duct in stock, so you are going to have to balance ‘just in time’ stock keeping with the demands of the installation teams waiting on site for a steel spiral duct.
Lean does not supply a pat answer to this kind of balancing in business; instead, you have to apply kanban discipline to both understand and streamline the process involved. Kanban means that work and stock is not ‘pushed’ into the process according to demands from another part of the process; instead, they are pulled in as part of balanced management of the entire process, accounting for capacity and bottlenecks.
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers describes the ultimate aim of lean as the elimination of waste, such as non-value adding work.
The first step may be getting everyone to work together to eliminate this waste.