How to create a strategy for a lean manufacturing implementation

For a manufacturing lean implementation to go smoothly, IT managers need to truly understand lean philosophy. This understanding will help build a strong lean strategy and ensure that projects stay on course.

Implementing lean successfully in manufacturing requires a true understanding of lean by the manufacturing facility

leaders, developing a lean strategy and staying the lean course. Without these components, the lean implementation becomes a misnomer -- it is not lean and it is not an implementation. Understanding lean manufacturing

Lean philosophy is a customer-focused way of thinking and working. Its objectives are to provide customers with the highest possible quality, in the shortest possible lead time at the lowest possible costs while respecting the humanity of employees." Highest possible" and "lowest possible" mean continuous improvement. "Respecting the humanity of employees" means valuing employees' knowledge and experience. Continuous improvement and valuing employees' knowledge and experience is achieved when waste in the organization is continuously identified and employees are challenged and enabled to eliminate or reduce wastes.

Wastes exist in all organizations in the forms of defects, over-production, waiting, non-utilized talent, excessive travel, excessive inventory, excessive motion and excessive processing. It is natural to try to conceal wastes when they occur but it is important to do just the opposite: make wastes obvious!

When manufacturing leaders (vice presidents, plant managers, quality managers, manufacturing managers, information technology managers, engineering managers, maintenance managers and human resources managers) understand lean philosphy, the foundation for a manufacturing lean implementation success strategy is built.

Lean manufacturing strategy

When organizations take the time to truly understand lean, the stage is set to put it in motion. A lean strategy should consist of the following:

  1. Securing true leadership buy-in to lean
  2. Educating all employees in lean principles
  3. Organizing the workplace
  4. Implementing standardized work
  5. Identifying wastes and making problem obvious
  6. Determining the root causes of wastes and problems
  7. Eliminating wastes and solving problems
  8. Learning and applying advanced lean tools like A3 Thinking, batch size reductions, SMED, Jidoka, Poke-yoke, TPM

After the strategy is designed, it should be communicated to all employees.

Staying the lean course

The greatest role that manufacturing leaders play in lean implementations is: staying the lean course. When a crisis arises, it is easy to justify putting lean adoption projects on the back-burner. Yet, this is the last thing a manufacturing leader should do. When a crisis arises, it is the most opportune time to practice lean. It is critical that leaders learn lean in a hands-on manner by regularly being involved in improvements and problem solving. Leaders should encourage and celebrate the identification of wastes and problems.

When wastes and problems are uncovered, manufacturing leaders should challenge employees by asking why five times to help employees get lean training and learn the true causes of the wastes and problems. Manufacturing leaders should place safety, quality, productivity and continuous improvement on the same level. Tactically, manufacturing leaders should also do the following:

  1. Monitor key metrics such as inventory turns, on-time delivery, product quality, employee involvement in continuous improvement
  2. Ensure that workplace organization is maintained
  3. Ensure that standardized work is part of the lean manufacturing effort

Unfortunately, most companies are not successful with lean implementations. Primary reasons that lean implementations fail are: poor management/employee relations, a lack of true leadership buy-in into lean and trying to implement lean without an experienced lean coach. It is important to make sure that these issues are addressed before undertaking a lean implementation. Once these issues are addressed, your organization will be successful with lean if lean is truly understood by the leaders of the organization, a lean deployment strategy is designed and communicated to all employees and manufacturing leaders stay the lean course.

Additional lean manufacturing success tips

Here are additional things to do to help with successful lean implementations:

  1. Visit world class manufacturing facilities regularly
  2. Offer tours at your facility and solicit improvement feedback
  3. Include continuous improvement resources in annual budgets
  4. Ensure that leaders provide constructive feedback in learning situations
  5. Try ideas from employees even if you don't agree if there is low risk associated with the idea
  6. Pursue the Shingo Prize

About the author: As vice president of consulting at Catalyst Connection, Tracy Alim leads a team of consultants who provide services in business growth, continuous improvement, information technology, productivity improvement, and quality improvement to manufacturers in southwest Pennsylvania. He holds both M.S. and B.S. degrees in mechanical engineering from Tuskegee University, and is a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and Six Sigma Black Belt.

Tracy Alim is an expert for the ERP for lean manufacturing section of our Ask the Experts panel.

This was first published in August 2009

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