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THE ART OF MANUFACTURING
By Ron Chase

THE LEAN JOURNEY

Part 2 - Continuity of the Journey

This is the fourth in a continuing series of Manufacturing-related articles.  We have thus far discussed my early fascination with “things that are built, have created a fairy tale concerning  Manufacturing, and provided Part 1 of the Lean Journey.  This article will continue to discuss the realities of creating a “Lean Environment” in manufacturing companies. 

The first article in this series was devoted to the beginning stages of the Lean Journey, what you should do first to build the foundation for a successful Lean program.  As stated at that time, this is a never-ending journey that will derail quickly if the right combination of activities does not take place.  This article discusses the follow-on activities that build a real “continuous improvement” program.  Several possibilities exist, and not all are right for all companies, but some of these will be necessary for all companies.  Does that confuse you?  It means that each company is unique, and what works for one might not work for another (there is no “cookie-cutter”, foolproof approach).  Part II of the Lean Journey will be to figure out what works best for your organization - a lot of this will be done as the Journey proceeds.  You will find that you have to be flexible and take positive action when changes in your course are required.

Remember in Part 1 we discussed the necessity to have a success, and then to advertise that success, and build on it.  This is also the key to Part 2 - success breeds success - but this is also a time of great change, and, with it, much trepidation.  We do not accept change easily!  By now, most of you have heard the phrase, “Paradigm Shift”.  Our paradigms often force us to only see things in ways that fit that paradigm, so changes, new ideas, new processes and methods do not come easily to us.  It is vitally important that the leaders of the Lean Journey, Senior Management, the Lean Champion(s) and training instructors/implementers also are change agents, continually motivating and empowering others to consider and accept the necessary changes in this program!!  There is a theory that unless we do something continuously and consistently, it often becomes only another slight detour in our life’s journey.  It does not become part of our paradigm!

Okay, enough already, I think you get the message - so how can an organization effectively manage change, and motivate its people to continue the Lean Journey?  Even though there is no “cookie-cutter” checklist, there are sound, proven methods that can be used to have a better chance of success.  What are these methods, you ask?  See below:

  • Good leaders develop a powerful vision, after taking in all available information.  This vision is shared with the Lean team, who must agree with it and support it.  The vision must be comprehensive, detailed, positive and inspiring.  It does not have to provide all of the elements of the Lean Journey - it must give all in the organization a clear view of what is to be accomplished.  EXAMPLE:  DTI is not only committed to 100% Customer Service, but also to challenge and move beyond the technological boundaries of Electro-Mechanical Man-Machine interfaces in Aircraft and other related vehicles!  Notice how this statement mentions Customer Service first and foremost, which indicates that we take care of today’s business, producing the best products.   Then this Vision Statement says that we will challenge and conquer technological boundaries - we will be an organization that does not rest on the past or present, but who seeks the best ways to improve and upgrade the aircraft cockpit environment.  This is a powerful statement - not long - but comprehensive.  Vision statements should always be compact enough for people in the organization to remember the basic theme and be able to recite it basically in their own words.  The details to accomplishing this Vision are better left to Business, Operating and Strategic Plans.  Vision Statements should be posted all over the organization’s facilities, especially with large banners.

  • A strong Vision is always accompanied by company Values.  Values measure the rightness of your organization’s direction.  Leaders should also share these with their people, getting consensus and support.  These Values should also be stated in writing as part of any plan that is developed.  Posting these in the facility, along with the Vision, is also a key part of ensuring that everyone in the organization knows and agrees with them.  The primary Values of any company deal with its commitment to its employees, customers and vendors.

  • But, by far the most important part of any Lean implementation plan is ACTION!!  Too many times, organizations make a plan, commit to it, do some training, and then spend so much time planning their first Lean project, that personnel begin to get that “old feeling of just another fad program with lots of talk and no action”.  It is much better to try things with only little or partial success, rather than have long periods of inaction.  When planning the first Lean events, develop small, intimate efforts that will produce quick improvements, then advertise, advertise, advertise, then do it again, and so on.  Maybe you were aiming for a 50% improvement, but only got a 17% improvement, so what, move on, do better the next time.   Action is the key!!

  • Any improvements gained in the Lean efforts should not only be advertised and used as springboards for other successes, but absolutely must be sustained and standardized.  As in any war, the battle is not completely over until the gained ground is consolidated and made a part of the complete friendly territory.  Backsliding can be another very detrimental area to a Lean program.  The easiest ways to accomplish this are as parts of an active ISO 9000 program and/or appointing Lean Champions whose primary purpose is to facilitate Lean activities.  These “hands-on” personnel are quite often the centerpiece of a successful Lean experience, and should be developed as early in the program as possible.

What you really have to remember is that the Lean effort, like any other worthwhile endeavor, only succeeds if you are fully committed and work hard and continuously to make it so.

There are many primers out there on Lean tools, processes, etc.  Two such sources that I have found to be useful are Lean Thinking by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones, and Gemba Kaizen by Masaaki Imai.  There are many others that are just as good, so you should check them out to see what best fits your situation.

The Lean Journey, Parts 1 and 2, have given you several suggested methods to consider in beginning a Lean Enterprise Program.  The basic segments involve first commitment, then planning, then working with experts in the training and beginning implementation phases, then continuing to take action and building on successes, then sustaining and standardizing the gains, and always continuing the efforts, never stopping.  Along the way, it is imperative that Lean Champions in your organization are found and placed into this role.  Every organization will be unique in some ways and alike in some others, so you must find your own route. 

The rewards of these efforts are amazing.  Gains of not 10% or 20%, but 50%, 100% and greater are the rule and not the exception when you truly “get it”.  Our next article will discuss metrics and benchmarking of Lean programs.


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