How to Implement Lean Manufacturing – Strategy and Spread the Word: Part 2(a)

I don’t like to have blog posts that have “Part 2(a)” in the title.  It’s just…I don’t know…persnickety or something.  But I did want to add a word or two (or…couple of hundred) about Spread the Word before moving on.  Specifically, I wanted to add something of a list of Spread the Word activities an organization starting a lean implementation should engage in.  I mentioned a few of these activities in my earlier post, but a re-reading of it prompts me to expand and elaborate.

Employee/Staff Workshops

The most most obvious (I think) method for getting the word out to as many folks as possible as efficiently as possible is getting them into a training room (or conference room, or lunch room), putting a box of donuts on the table, setting up the computer projector for the slides and have at it.  This method has a few shortcomings, but I agree that it’s probably the best way to get started with the Spread the Word phase.

Workshop 1
“Everybody into the Classroom” can be a good way to Spread the Word, if you can afford it.

Here are a few suggestions from my own experience for assuring effectiveness of such workshops.  First, keep the workshops small as to the number of participants.  You might be tempted to do fewer workshops with more folks in attendance as a matter of efficiency, but, trust me, what you’ll gain in efficiency, you’ll lose in effectiveness.

Smaller groups means the participants are likely to feel more comfortable asking questions, making comments, giving feedback.  Smaller groups generally means a less formal, more conversational environment that prompts participants to speak their minds or to request further information.  That’s what you want to see, of course.

Small workshops are more effective.
Small workshops are more effective.

Second,  make the workshops shorter rather than longer.  Don’t try to pack too much info into the workshop.  I have client that conducts a Lean 101 workshop of several days for all its employees and it works well for them.  Most of my clients can’t afford to do that sort of thing, though.  I’m often lucky if I can get groups for an hour.  (I like to get two hours, when I can.) But I don’t mind, terribly, because it compels us to get to the point quickly and cover the essentials well.


What are those essentials?  They are as follows:

  1. What (generally but briefly) Lean Is and Why We’re Doing It
  2. What Our Lean Goals and Measures Are
  3. What You’ll See Happening (and Changing) as the Lean Implementation is Rolled Out
  4. How You Will Be Involved and What Is Expected Of You
  5. The Lean Implementation Calendar

What about lean manufacturing lean concepts, methods, and tools?  When do they get all those.  Again, if you can schedule and conduct Lean 101 workshops, no reason why they can’t get them now.  But, whether you can afford Lean 101 or not, it might be better to teach those tools and methods as they are needed.

One last thing…it’s OK to get your lean consultant or lean director to kick off the workshops and to cover any “basics of lean” material.  But the core elements need to be covered by the plant manager, the VP of Manufacturing, the department director, the owner and President, etc., etc.  If the consultant/lean director is telling associates why you are taking the time and trouble to implement a lean initiative in your company, the message WILL be diluted.  Everyone will rightly wonder, “If this is so important to my boss, why isn’t he or she telling me?”

Central Lean Activities Board

Central Board 3 I admit I’ve sometimes honored this more in the breach in my own work but it’s an important element in the Spread the Word effort.  (In my defense, I always bring it up as an important communications tool but I don’t always push hard enough to get it done in a timely way.  I’ve found that, in most small organizations, there’s just nobody in charge of “Central Communications Board Development”.)

A Central Lean Activities Board is simply a large bulletin board, dry erase board or section of the wall where regularly updated information about the lean initiative will be posted.  (I’ve posted a few examples I got froCentral Board 1m the interweb.  I do have some examples of my own but I don’t have explicit permission from my clients to make them public.)

There are as many forms and formats for Central Lean Activities Boards as their are companies who use them.  Here’s what I like to see on them:

  1. Updated metrics charts.
  2. Project teams with charters and team member photos.
  3. Lean activities calendar.
  4. Recognition.

It’s important that the Communications Board be big enough to put everything you need onto it and that what you put onto it is visible.  No small print.  No hard to read spreadsheets.  I should be able to stand 10 feet away from the Board and get most of what I need to see and know.

It’s vital…VITAL…that the Communications Board be kept up to date.  Now does that mean I need to replace the metrics charts each and every day?  Does that mean I need to put the full minutes of every project team on the Board after each and every meeting?  No, it doesn’t.  It does mean that I need to commit to when new information will get put up on the board and stick to those commitments.  If my metrics charts show monthly data and the data is available on the 5th day of the month, then new charts need to be posted by 5pm on the fifth day of the month, every month.  It means that the charter of each team (along with pictures of the members) need to be posted as soon as the team is formed.    It means that announcements regarding upcoming events and activities need to be posted in advance, then taken down when the event or activity is complete.  (That said, I once had a client with several plants around the country.  Sometimes I’d visit the plants and see that new material had been posted…the day before my arrival.  It made me kind of suspicious.)

Finally, you might need more than one Central Communications Boards.  If an employee has to walk 300 yards to check out the latest info, he or she is not likely to make the effort.  And don’t forget the admin area.  It needs it’s own Board.

OK, this post is long enough.  More later.