Last time, we laid out the five steps to implementing lean manufacturing and gave a bit of an overview as to the whole program. Let’s work on that a bit more. We’ll jump into the specifics of the five phases next post.
Over the years, I’ve found that clients often know about the various concepts and tools surrounding lean. I rarely get asked, “What’s this ‘heijunka’ thing I’ve heard about?” or “I don’t know much about 5S. Can you explain it to me?” Rather, the more common questions are “How do I get started?” and “What do I do next?”
To tell you the truth, the best answer to those questions is, “We can’t really be sure where to start or what to do next until we dig in and talk more about your specific circumstances.” I’ve found, though, that answer doesn’t do much to comfort prospective (or existing) clients. They’re eager to hear the program. Mind you, they’re often very willing to be flexible once the program gets started. Heck, they are the ones that generate the need for flexibility once it gets started. But, at the front end, they need to hear that the implementation has a beginning, an end, and a finite number of steps to get between the two.
Just as if you were building a house. You wouldn’t be comforted if the contractor said, “We’ll start talking about your needs and interests and see what develops.” You’d want to see a blueprint. That’s what the five steps represent: a blueprint for implementing lean methods and tools.
I took care of the backlog of “spam comments”. You’re good to go, so comment away.
Here’s a Youtube video that I think you’ll enjoy. Truth be told, I don’t see a lot of lean manufacturing videos (I need to look for more good ones) but I stumbled across this one and have shown it to a few clients.
It does a very good job of illustrating the value and benefit of work place organization and visual factory.
In looking back to find this video, I see there are several others by Fast Cap about lean. I need to check those out, as well. In the meantime, enjoy this one.
You know, I get hundreds of comments to the posts I write here. (At the moment, theres a backlog of more than 1400 comments.) The problem is, all of them (so far as I can tell) are spam.
That means that there might be a few legitimate comments that I’m not seeing that aren’t getting posted because I don’t want to wade through the backlog. Especially given that, within a few days, it would be right back where it is now.
I’m going to figure this out eventually (I think there’s a way of attaching one of those Captcha widgets that make you type in the fuzzy numbers), but until then, you probably won’t see your comment below a post.
I’m always eager to hear what you have to say, though, so, for the time being, use the contact page anytime you just have to respond to a post.
I found a good article by another practioner, Bill Waddell, at his Manufacturing Leadership blog. I’ve never met Bill but he’s a good writer and I used to check out another blog he wrote for (and maybe still does), Evolving Excellence., to see what he had written lately. He and I went a few rounds in the comment section of some of his posts (I tend to have a more sanguine view of labor organizations and the public sector than he does) but his articles were always thoughtful and well written. (He, like me, can be very tough on management and leadership.)
This article is a good example. When I saw the title, The Irrelevance of Minimum Wage, I was ready to go another round or two with him. Then I read the article and found myself in complete agreement.
He rightly calls manufacturers to task:
“The same thing is true with the braying from the old school manufacturers about their perceived inability to find skilled workers. All depends on the skills. When they see workers as merely that “set of hands” they are right. Lean companies, however, see it a bit differently…”
Bill correctly points out that too many companies see their workers, not as sources of strategic advantage, but simply as costs that need to be minimized.
OK, let’s get started…again.
The five, not so easy, steps to implement lean manufacturing are:
- Strategy and Spread the Word
- Sort and Shine
- Straighten and See
- Simplify and Solve
- Standardize and Sustain
You’ll notice the alliteration around the S’s…that’s to make it all easier to remember. I hope.
Truth be told, they aren’t really steps so much as they are stages or phases. And they don’t have to be done in the order listed. Except for Strategy and Spread the Word, That one has to go first.
I’ve been using this model for a few years now. Here’s why I like it:
- It’s an approach that’s easy to use to explain to others what we’ll do and how we’ll do it. It also facilitates keeping track of where we’ve made progress and what’s left to accomplish.
- The approach is flexible and customizable just about any situation I run into. I’ve used this in small and large settings.
- It provides appropriate “buckets” to put all the tools and tactics I use. By that I mean, each tool, each tactic has “someplace to go”. 5S? Phases 2 and 3. Visual Factory? Phase 3. Value Stream Mapping? Phase 4. Leader Standard Work? Phase 5. You get the idea, I think.
- And, finally, it formats nicely for a series of blog posts!
You’ll notice I’ve changed the name of the blog to Lean Manufacturing Update. The reason is shamelessy commercial…I’m hoping it shows up better in web searches. After all, if you were looking for info on “lean manufacturing”, would it occur to you to search on “agile manufacturing”? Exactly.
I still like the term “agile” better than I do “lean”. But I hope I’ll get to say that to more people by changing the name of my blog.
I used to have this blog on the regular Godaddy blog software. They bagged the blogging business, pretty much leaving me in the lurch. So now I’m on WordPress, hosted by Godaddy (I’m still trying to figure it all out). The worst part about it all…I lost all my previous content. Yeah. All of it. I had some good stuff there, too.
I’m not sure if it was my fault for not doing…something, or Godaddy’s fault for not telling me to do something. Or maybe there wasn’t anything that could be done, I forget.
I did this series on how to implement lean, step-by-step, that I was always proud of. It was well received (if the Godaddy site stats were to be believed). I’m going to do it again because, well, again, it’s good material and because I’ve updated my approach.
So, come back here every so often and see what I’ve added.
I was on a sales call a couple of days ago and was reminded, yet again, of the importance of lean measures and operating metrics. (In other words, numbers, data, metrics, charts, yardsticks, measures, what have you that allow a manager or associate to assess the level of performance of an operation or process).
Essentially, the manager was frustrated because his organization had no measures of performance. This meant he couldn’t tell if he had the right resources deployed in the right way or not.
This is why I always start, way back in Leadership Planning, with the development of metrics that will allow the leadership group to determine whether the lean initiative is working or not.
If you’re interested in learning more about operations metrics, do a web search for any of Brian Maskell’s books.
One of the fun parts about lean consulting (as compared with implementing lean for a single employer) is that I get to see a variety of environments and figure out how the lean tools can be applied. A few months ago, a couple of colleagues and I got a state grant to help two school districts implement lean concepts and tools in three of their support services departments: buildings and grounds, transportation (the buses), and, yes, the cafeterias.
I’ve especially enjoyed working with the lunch room ladies. We’re not far down the road but it’s an exciting place to implement lean tools. I visited the lunch rooms during morning prep and production and service to the students. I’m telling you, it’s a faster paced environment than you might suspect.
Here are some of the factors that make the kitchens fun for a lean practitioner:
- There’s no such thing as a late delivery. Those kids are storming through those lunch room doors at 10:45 whether the food is ready or not.
- The lunch rooms I visited make about 80 breakfasts, then turn around and make a few hundred lunches.
- The flow of work is constant from the moment the lunch ladies arrive early in the morning until the cafeteria and kitchen is cleaned up after the last student walks out of the lunchroom. There are no breaks.
- Small problems compound quickly. Can’t find an instant read thermometer to check the temp of the meat loaf? That might mean the meat loaf cools and has to go back into the warmer. That might mean the main meal won’t be ready when those students line up with their trays.
- One of the lunch rooms I visited had five different stations, each with it’s own menu. That’s a lot more variety than I was accustomed to back in my day.
- Menus change regularly. That means raw materials and production processes change regularly.
I could go on.
Right now we’re working to improve the procurement process. Then we’ll be moving on to the production processes. I’ll let you know how it goes.