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Imagine that you own a small business that produces innovative woodworking products. You are an expert in the field, and your bank gives you a big loan to expand your thriving business. You impress everyone with your success, but when you hire a consultant to optimize your inventory, the consultant says you lack expertise and that your manufacturing processes are not viable. Feeling somewhat humiliated, you start reading about the Toyota Production System. You learn about Lean thinking, which advises making every step in your process as efficient and simple as possible. You move gradually from “big batch” thinking – producing, say, 100 pieces at a time – to making only what you need when you need it. By adopting Lean thinking, you reduce the stock you manage and, instead, directly tackle two crucial maxims: cut waste and improve constantly.
Running a big batch production process requires lots of space, machinery and people, plus the means to move products around. If, instead, you opt for “U-shaped manufacturing cells,” each worker becomes responsible for producing only one item from start to finish. This offers many benefits. With a one-piece flow, workers produce less inventory, make fewer mistakes and create less waste. One-piece production improves cash flow. Look closely and you’ll find that every batch production job produces waste at each step.
“A Lean culture is a free culture where people are trusted to express themselves and be creative. This is uncomfortable for most leaders.”
The Hated Eight
Waste stands at the core of everything Lean seeks to destroy. Your task is to eliminate it. You may look at waste reduction as a liability – or, if you can enjoy a more playful take, consider launching a companywide “scavenger hunt” to track down these eight sources of waste: too much production, processing and inventory, plus “defects,” “transportation,” “wasted motion,” “waiting time” and “unused employee genius.”
“Make a batch and waste will be everywhere – or make one, make it right and waste will magically disappear.”
By eliminating waste, you’ll achieve better outcomes and expend less energy. Consider every potential small improvement. If one step in your production usually takes 60 minutes, ask yourself – and your team – how you can cut it in half. Once you’re down to 30 minutes, think again and aim for another 50% cut. Lean means hunting down all possible waste and helping your employees improve their work all the time. Provide the correct example by always attempting to make every task and process more simple.
“Lean At Home”
You can apply Lean thinking to many of life’s activities, including how you organize your home; you can always find room for improvement. Ask “what bugs you” to find out where you can enhance daily performance. For example, you might have a closet with dark corners that make it hard for you to find a matching outfit in the morning: Upgrade to brighter lights to reduce frustration and save time and energy in your morning routine.
“Each mistake and each improvement will become a valuable part of building a culture of continuous improvement.”
Seek out other potential Lean improvements. For example, analyze how you make your morning tea or coffee. Instead of putting a pack of sweetner in a mug, adding cinnamon and then fetching a tea bag and hot water, consider buying the sweetener in bulk and mixing it with cinnamon in a sugar shaker placed conveniently near your tea bags and hot water source. Potentially, this could save a few hours and a mile or two of running back and forth in your kitchen every year.
“Toyota makes millions of improvements every year, all generated from the ideas of their employees worldwide.”
“Pilgrimage” to Japan
Consider Japan the center of Lean thinking. If you have the time and means, consider a pilgrimage and learn directly from the experts at Toyota. See how they transformed their factories into “institutions of efficiency and simplicity.” Watching people on the shop floor embrace the principles of Lean can be inspirational, whether they perform their tasks with concentration at their stand-up workspaces, engage in continuous training sessions or just sweep the floors.
Witness how the leaders dress in the same blue overalls as everyone else, and how even the CEO scrubs the bathroom as part of the daily cleaning routine. The people in a Lean plant focus on living Lean principles every day. Toyota prioritizes its people. Through learning and ongoing training, Toyota inculcates employees with the concept of “continuous improvement.”
“The Lean leader has an ego strong enough to solicit and welcome ideas from absolutely every person involved and will recognize everybody’s contribution as valuable.”
“The 5S’s of Lean” The 5S’s of Lean can serve as an elementary guideline for starting your firm’s Lean journey:
“The number-one thing that people want in life is to feel that their ideas matter and they are making a difference.”
- “Sort” – Eradicate everything you don’t require.
- “Straighten” – Systematize how you display tools.
- “Shine” – Clean floors and workspaces daily.
- “Standardize” – Share best practices by posting signs representing them visually.
- “Sustain” – Mark where certain things belong: chairs, tables and “even the salt and pepper” shakers.
You can implement all five steps at once, or only a subset to get started. For example, Hoks, a Japanese manufacturer that went from a multimillion-dollar loss to an amazing $10 million profit in only a few years, began its transition with three S’s: sweep, sort and standardize.
“Lean is focused on intentionally simplifying any process. When you make a process simpler, you yield a better, more satisfying result with less effort.”
To ingrain Lean in your business, start building a culture that displays its principles every day. Use “morning meetings” to share performance updates and success stories with your workforce. Begin with five minutes every day, and scale up to meetings that last between 30 to 45 minutes. During meeting time, no one works. Everyone shares insights and improvement opportunities. Rotate the task of leading the meetings to generate and encourage leadership within your staff.
“To eliminate the waste of excess inventory, we had to analyze our processes closely and find ways to improve them.”
Everyone likes acknowledgement and admiration for their achievements. Offer tours of your facility. Your people will feel good about outsiders wanting to see their work and emulate their successes. In Lean culture, the individual comes first, then the process and then the product. Build an inclusive, proud culture and savor more happy faces around your shop floor.
Getting Better in Two Seconds
Some people struggle to come up with continuous improvements in their workplace. Facilitate that process by asking for small, incremental enhancements. Ask how you can save just two seconds in your daily working routine. If everyone performs these two-second improvements every day, those seconds will accumulate to a significant savings in time and resources. To recognize your staff’s creative enhancements, walk around the facility each morning to see how your employees have improved their workspaces.
“If you feel like you’re pushing a train or like you’re spinning your wheels trying to make Lean work, then you’re doing it all wrong.”
What seems like a simple idea becomes powerful when you “set the expectation, inspect the expectation” and then “reinforce the expectation.” To learn how other Lean companies started their improvement journey, visit one. The improvements at FastCap, Kaas Tailored, VIBCO and Toyota are quite visible, so you can learn from their firsthand experience.
“Your pride will blind you to what you most need to learn.”
Start in the Bathroom
You can start your Lean transformation in many different spaces, but one space that is equally important for anyone in your firm might be the bathrooms. Make your lavatories the standard for what Lean should look like. Create a chart that explains how to clean the bathroom, using pictures and easy-to-understand descriptions. Copy and laminate that card and put one on each bathroom door. Standardize the cleaning materials and equipment you use; display and label all cleaning supplies nicely on a shelf in every bathroom.
Now engage your staff in cleaning the bathrooms. Whereas you might have used outside cleaning personnel in the past, explain why you want everyone to take charge of the bathroom’s cleanliness from now on – including yourself. Rotate tasks so that people clean a different bathroom every week. To create a standard and to act out of respect for each other, each person will want to leave the bathroom neater and cleaner than he or she found it. Starting in the bathroom is a simple way to endorse a culture of continuous improvement.
“At its core, Lean is really about the process of growing people.”
Now, imagine you visit your firm’s lunchroom and find a table covered with empty bottles, used napkins and half-eaten sandwiches. Some employees clearly didn’t clean up. Your first thought might be: “How can anyone be so disrespectful?” Since you’re vested in Lean thinking, jump into improvise mode; consider how to stop such packaging waste.
“A Lean strategy will always yield a simpler, safer and better product, and with happier, very involved employees.”
“Extreme and Humble Lean”
When an economic crisis appears, immerse yourself in fighting back. When FastCap lost 25% of its sales in 2008, its leaders created a threefold plan for fighting back: “We will survive. There will be no layoffs and no pay cuts. Not only will we survive, but we will prosper through the recession.” FastCap reduced its marketing expenditures by 50%, and every department cut expenses. Buying used equipment at a lower price from companies that went bust helped FastCap expand and create new jobs. At the close of 2009, the company proudly reported that it had successfully survived the battle, thanks to Extreme Lean practices during the crisis.
As a Lean leader, be humble, show openness when you make mistakes and always praise your staff. You don’t have to come up with all the problem-solving concepts yourself if you build a culture in which others happily share their ideas. Consider how humility makes you successful.
“My advice for people wanting to create a Lean culture is to start in the bathroom and roll it out slowly from there.”
“Three Pillars of Lean”
To strengthen the idea of two-second lean, make sure you build your improvements on three pillars:
- “See waste” – To eliminate the eight wastes, people must recognize them.
- “Continuously improve everything, everybody, every day” – Keep building on your achievements.
- “Make before and after videos of all your improvements” – Videos make your achievements visible to everyone. They can be educational and show your progress. Even if you are new to videos, do not worry – just start. If you wait for everything to be perfect, you will never make a video. Instead, turn on your smartphone and make your debut. Have your staff produce and watch improvement videos all the time. Use these videos for marketing, for example, as part of your weekly email newsletter to customers.
“11 Steps to Lean Culture”
Lean should be simple and fun. You don’t need to hire consultants to start on your 11 steps to Lean culture. All you need do is move through this list, one step at a time:
- Make sure the CEO personally embraces and adopts the Lean idea.
- Hold regular team meetings daily.
- Teach the eight wastes.
- Encourage everyone to make videos.
- Point at yourself when you demonstrate waste.
- “Fix what bugs you.”
- Begin implementing Lean practices in any places that no longer work.
- Get started yourself; don’t wait for an external consultant to appear.
- Leave family out of it; never teach your spouse or children to be Lean.
- Don’t hesitate – once you begin, you will soon gain recognition as a Lean leader.
- Always look for a simple solution to any problem.
Execute these steps to energize your business. If at any time your culture needs more drive, go back to step 1 and repeat until your workplace experiences rebirth.
“Building a Lean Culture”
When you build a Lean culture, you’ll find that you can harvest the returns fairly quickly. You will experience greater retention and less turnover. Your employees will have fun working for you and your customers will be loyal to your strong performance and superior operations. Reducing costs, increasing quality and always innovating will sustain your firm over the long run.[/text_block]