Over the past several years I’ve been spending a lot of time understanding what Lean manufacturing principles are. I’ve worked hands on with several companies as well as reading about twenty books on the subject.
I’ve come to the conclusion that all companies need to think about “leaning out” their companies. Lean is about getting rid of waste. Once you understand this you start thinking in a different way.
First, take a step back.
I like the term mindful. It makes me take a step back and think about how I can change things for the better. I might be changing something in my personal life. Or, as in the case of Lean, I’ll be thinking about how I can get rid of waste. Lean is really very simple, find someplace you have waste and do something about it.
When you start thinking about “leaning” out your company start with something that’s obvious and big. I know you have one. All you have to do is step back and think for a while. It’s probably not something you’ve been measuring. It’s likely something that you know you’ve got and just don’t want to look at because it’s just too depressing. Go ahead; take a step back and look in that dark, scary corner. You’ll find gold if you’re not afraid.
Lean starts with working on your company.
I know you’ve heard the statement work on your company and not in it. That’s where all good Lean activities start. It all begins with taking a step back and looking at your company from above. Pretend you’re an alien from outer space who’s never seen a company like yours. What do you think they would notice?
Whatever it is that our friendly alien notices is what you start work on. It’s probably the issue that has the biggest opportunity for the least amount of effort. I’m going to encourage you to be a little lazy. Not lazy in a bad way, just lazy in a way where you don’t want to spend more effort than you need to. That’s where you’ll find your biggest result when you start a Lean program. I know it’s staring you in the face. The question is what is it?
Your Lean program should not be the same a Toyota’s Lean program.
Toyota, Ford Motors, and Boeing all have two things in common that you don’t have. First, they’ve been at this Lean game for a long time. Second, they have tons of resources to throw against this issue. You have neither.
This means you have to be smarter about how you go about putting Lean principles at work in your company. Don’t use the Japanese terms. Your people don’t speak Japanese, they speak English. Use English terms and use words they understand. Make your program simple. If it’s complicated or hard it’s not going to work. Make your program operationally doable. If you don’t, it won’t be used for very long.
Smaller companies have fewer resources. I bet you are one of those smaller companies. Use some street smarts and come up with ideas for getting rid of waste that is easy to understand and easy to implement. A few years from now you’ll be able to get more complicated.
Make sure your Lean program starts with a top down analysis.
This has been the biggest mistake I’ve seen in all the Lean implementations over the past couple of years. I’ll let you in on a secret. Your line workers don’t know what the biggest opportunity in your company is. You know what the biggest opportunity is. You need to take responsibility and tell people what you need to improve.
If on time delivery is a problem, work on that. Waste is a problem, work on that. Your sales team doesn’t make enough calls, work on that. You get the idea. You already know where you biggest problem is. Once you decide what you’re going to work on, you can then ask for help. It’s your job to start the process.
Do one thing at a time and do it well.
We’ve established that you’re not Toyota. You already know that you don’t have unlimited resources. Work on one thing at a time. If you choose the biggest problem and solve that you have a win. When your biggest problem is fixed, go for the second biggest problem.
You set the agenda and ask for help. Don’t let others distract you. The payoff is too big and I want to make sure you get that big payoff you deserve. Remember, take a step back, look around, and do one thing at a time. You’ll be glad you did.
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