Significant effort and dollars are invested in lean initiatives each year in manufacturing plants across the United States.
These investments can yield significant production and profitability gains if done properly. However, it is not uncommon for these initiatives to fail because of one or several key factors in management preparation for the lean journey.
By improving the following factors, the likelihood of success with lean initiatives can be dramatically improved.
1. Shift Belief to Data Rather than Opinions
All too often, decisions are made based on the opinions of those who management deems the “smartest” on the team. When they say, “I think...,” this causes executives to base their decisions on the esteem with which they hold that individual, rather than the value and integrity of the suggestion itself.
Instead management executive should seek information that begins with, “The data show…,” which allows any team member to make meaningful contributions to improvement while making fact-based operational decisions.
2. Ensure Buy-In Beyond the Initial Launch
At the outset of the project, everyone is excited and participates, particularly because management of the manufacturing organization shows keen interest. However the lean journey is a marathon and not a sprint. It is key that management continues to assess, evaluate and promote the lean journey with middle management and operational staff.
Make it clear from the outset that progress will be monitored throughout the journey and that the lean champions within the organization clearly play an important role.
3. Set Clear Rules of Engagement at the Outset
It has been said many times that we should “begin with the end in mind” (Covey). When the senior executives in the business operations decide they want to undertake a lean journey, it is important that they build the fence and allow the staff to build the house. This can only happen if goals, objectives, expectations, roles, responsibilities and authority are properly assigned and delegated.
4. Set Up for Success
Help the staff achieve success by pre-identifying some “quick wins” as well as provide opportunities for acceptable failure. With this in place, staff can feel wins and not fear losses or mistakes.
It is certain that there will be missteps along the lean journey, so it is important that the staff knows early on how to handle them when they occur and does not feel the need to bury them in order to avoid persecution by management.
5. Train, Train, Train
There is nothing worse than entering a new responsibility without adequate training and development under your belt. Instead, management can allow for basic training at the outset of the lean journey so that all staff understand the goals and ideals behind lean manufacturing. Then, provision of additional, advanced training to key leaders and project participants allows the team to enhance their abilities and to properly evaluate situations beyond just their past experiences.
Identification of either superior trainers within the operation -- such as a sister company or different location -- or procurement of an external resource to provide this training, is ideal. The training should be widely shared within the organization and not provided to just one individual. The more staff who are trained, the better the results will be.
Once these factors are optimized for the specific manufacturing operation embarking on a lean journey, the likelihood of success will be dramatically increased, and management will be able to make additional investments in other plant improvement projects.
Jason Piatt is cofounder and president of Praestar Technology Corp. Prior to founding Praestar Technology, Jason held various tactical and executive positions in engineering, sales and marketing, and program management with a leading power transmission component manufacturer. He has served as a member of the faculty at Penn State University and has taught at Pennsylvania College of Technology in electrical and mechanical engineering technology, mathematics, and physics.Jason and the Praestar Consulting team have assisted numerous manufacturers in the areas of lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, sales and marketing management, and strategy formation.