My first attempt at using Lean techniques was a total failure. When I had my vending company I would try a new technique almost every month. Because I used so many different strategies no one knew what to do. It was only after we started to focus on one thing at a time that we were successful.
Lean manufacturing, a system of removing waste from industrial processes that is also known as the Toyota Production System, is a must in many large companies like the auto industry. Toyota first coined the term and the rest of the industry has had to follow along. Not only have the auto manufacturers joined the lean movement but their suppliers have as well.
When small companies try to emulate larger companies they often fail. When a large facility starts to implement Lean strategies they will put a team of people on the project. Smaller companies rarely have the human resources available to do this.
Smaller companies need to have at least one person in the company to be an evangelist for making their company Lean. Small companies that do this well will often have the owner be that person. Owners have the ability to change culture and change direction the company is moving.
The first problem smaller companies have is they try to do too much too quickly. Since a smaller company has fewer resources for strategic change they have to choose carefully what project they will adopt. A big problem that I see is the owner gets excited about what Lean can do for their company and tries to do too many things at once.
Adopting one thing at a time and adopting this one thing well will help your company be successful in a Lean installation. If three or more different parts of Lean are installed at one time your process is doomed to failure.
Watch out for taking two steps backwards. Most strategic processes that involve cultural change (processes like Lean) will not go forward smoothly. When improvements are being made, life is easy. When things don’t work as well smaller companies often give up and just say, “It won’t work here.” It’s not that it doesn’t work in your company it’s just the way these things are.
Commitment to making Lean work in your company is likely the biggest predictor of success. The techniques will work. The question you have to answer is am I willing to stay with it when things get tough and challenges present themselves.
If you’re not willing to do this, you won’t be successful. For smaller companies that are willing to work through the rough patches, the rewards are large.
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