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Bookshelf: Lessons From a Lean Consultant

April 10, 2009
By Chris A. Ortiz, Pearson Education Inc., 2008, 176 pages, $34.99

Chris Ortiz relates a story that is commonplace in manufacturing organizations attempting a lean implementation. Ortiz, owner of lean consultancy firm Kaizen Assembly, begins "Lessons From a Lean Consultant" with a narrative about a former employer that struggled in the kaizen process -- the brainstorming and problem-solving sessions essential to driving improvements through lean.

The company, which Ortiz calls "X-Corp.," made a major mistake when it never provided formal training to the continuous-improvement teams on how kaizen events are conducted. The result was a dysfunctional mess that left employees distressed and drove Ortiz -- who was hired by the company as a senior lean manufacturing engineer -- to quit.

"It was apparent we needed a comprehensive company kaizen program," he writes. "Unfortunately, on this journey, communication, scheduling, team member selection and the upfront planning were minimal."

Midway through the book, Ortiz provides insight into how teams should be selected, calling it "probably the most critical aspect of planning kaizen events." He suggests that at least four weeks before a scheduled kaizen event that senior leadership make a tentative list of possible team members so managers can begin preparing for their absence and then finalizing the list two weeks later to ensure personal or family restrictions are accommodated.

Potential team members should include:

  • A manufacturing or industrial engineer or an engineer who has "skills comparable to those of a manufacturing or industrial engineer."
  • A quality engineer or highly skilled quality technician. This person will be needed to help supervise and oversee changes to work content or standards.
  • Facilities and maintenance personnel who can help the team finish on schedule and avoid delays by ensuring machines, equipment, workstations, tools and other facility needs are fully operational during and after the process.
  • A materials operator whose knowledge of parts needed to build products will be helpful when the team makes decisions regarding materials supplies to workstations.
  • Line operators who have detailed knowledge of the product, assembly line, tools, machine capabilities, daily issues and other aspects related to production. Ortiz suggests including two line operators on the team and keeping them involved in each step of the analysis, design and construction phases.
  • Top managers who shouldn't be afraid to "roll up their sleeves and get dirty along with the rest of the employees, thereby demonstrating the company's commitment to the success of the kaizen program."
  • Ortiz also makes suggestions for selecting kaizen team leaders. The key characteristics of successful kaizen leaders include past participation in at least three kaizen events, completion of project management training, creation of a budget and schedule for a previous project, experience leading a team environment and the ability to work well under pressure.

    Among the other lean-related topics tackled by Ortiz in the book are training programs, leadership skills and strategy development. For the novice lean practitioner, Ortiz wraps up with an ever-valuable glossary of terms from "5s" methodology to "takt time."

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