A New Look at Lean Manufacturing

It’s been more than a quarter-century since The Machine that Changed the World was published, in which Jim Womack and colleagues presented the Toyota Production System (TPS) and lean thinking to the Western world. A strong majority of manufacturers have adopted this methodology, and its principles have since spread from production to all functions (front office, finance, R&D, etc.) as well as to healthcare and other service industries.

Some manufacturers have flourished within new lean cultures. But many other firms — maybe yours — have achieved some results from their lean efforts, but perhaps not as much as they had hoped. Or maybe your company is among the one-third of manufacturers not yet using lean or TPS. Whichever describes your organization, it’s time to take a new look at lean — and at five keys to implementation that will make lean work for you:

Embed lean in your organization’s DNA: Lean isn’t about tools or techniques, but about changing how you think. Truly lean manufacturers have workforces — from the CEO to the janitor — in which every employee looks for problems (not blame), thinks about how to fix them, and then solves them. It’s critical that a leader (i.e., you) model this behavior daily for employees; if the boss doesn’t believe in lean, why should anybody else?

Focus on the customer: Every action should be considered within a context of providing optimum value to customers. Whatever your role — and whatever you’re doing — ask yourself: “Would a customer pay for this?” For example: if your workers are for waiting parts, due to poor scheduling, material-handling delays, or miscommunication between you and your supplier: Will a customer pay for the extra labor? Or if you’ve just scrapped a batch of defective products: Will the customer pay those costs?

Build a system: For lean to succeed, it needs to become “the way” things are done in your company. That means standardization of every process, so that everyone works in the same manner and can rapidly identify variations in a process. As employees retire and new hires sign on, the system remains intact — along with your profits.

Make sure the entire value stream is involved: All aspects of your company and supply chain should operate with the lean system. Any gap or hiccup in the value stream — the series of steps that create a delighted customer — means the benefit flowing to the customer has been delayed or cheapened. You can begin a lean implementation with a single production line, but eventually it will need to touch everything.

Don’t be afraid to experiment: Make lean your own. Many companies with successful “lean” programs never utter the word or post its principles on walls. Call it whatever you want — but make sure that you eventually call it a success.

Want to learn more? Contact Linda Barita at 216.391.7766 or email linda.barita@magnetwork.org to schedule a consultation with our Growth Advisory Team!

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Posted by MAGNET Ohio in Lean

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