Starting your Lean Manufacturing Journey

Every journey begins with a first step. And the first step is deciding, “Where do I want to go?”

Lean Manufacturing is a process that is designed to take your manufacturing production from supplier to customer with no wasted effort or steps:

  • Perfect flow
  • Zero safety incidents
  • Zero product defects
  • Zero waste

In an ideal lean manufacturing scenario, you deliver exactly what the customer wants, exactly how they want it, and exactly when they need it.

SCREEEEEECH!

That’s the halting sound of reality. While the utopian dream of constructing a perfect lean manufacturing system may remain eternally elusive, that doesn’t mean that the effort is futile.

As defined by the Lean Enterprise Institute, lean manufacturing is the principle of “maximizing customer value while minimizing waste.”

Step 1: Pinpoint your destination

Like every journey, we begin with the end in mind. For a lean manufacturing journey, we begin by asking these two questions:

  1. Where can we maximize customer value?
  2. Where can we minimize waste?

Some organizations have clear priorities. Others may have to do some discovery work to figure out where they should prioritize their efforts. If you’ve never embarked on a lean journey before, it’s wise to hire a “lean Sherpa” or as we more commonly call it, a consultant to help guide your way. Pick a few key priorities where you believe you have the most to gain.

Step 2: Decide if the lean journey is work the risk, time and effort

Can you forecast a high enough ROI (return on investment) to take on this project? We use a tool called ManufacturingCONNECT for Lean to visualize various “what if” scenarios. Other companies use complex Excel spreadsheets to forecast potential costs and savings.

Step 3: Build Your Lean Team

Lean is more than tools and takt time. It’s a mindset. For lean to be successful, lean principles must permeate throughout the company culture. The Lean Leaders you select should have time to devote to the project, be passionate about the company, and willing to embrace change. As the Lean Team builds the Lean Project Plans, they also need to create a communication and change management strategy to help the entire company learn and embrace Lean Manufacturing.

Step 4: Set Bold Goals

Make them visible. Build a vision for each area about why change is needed and what the expected results may look like. These goals must have buy-in from Executive Leadership.

Step 5: Build Your Lean Project Plan

Identify all the resources you need to execute your lean manufacturing plan. Your manufacturing systems may need to be upgraded, changed or replaced to support your lean manufacturing initiatives. Develop a reasonable timeline, but one that gets you into action as soon as possible, creating visible results. Start small and expand scope as you build momentum.

One final piece of advice is that we recommend you begin evangelizing Lean Principles as early as you can. Develop a strong communications plan. Develop training programs to get lean into the hands of your supervisors and engineers. Our “Learning Lean with Legos” training program is one of the most popular and fun ways we’ve taught lean concepts.

Author: Phil Coy, Managing Director – Manufacturing Excellence

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