Flexible Approaches To Implementing Lean Manufacturing

Running your company as efficiently as possible has become critical in recent years, and even more urgent during the struggles of today’s economy. Some alternative approaches are beginning to help companies implement Lean Manufacturing improvements quickly, inexpensively, and without over-burdening staff resources.

This article will briefly describe four new approaches being pioneered in an effort to make Lean implementation available to all companies regardless of their financial situation or personnel constraints. No matter what approach you take to becoming Lean, allow yourself and your staff to enjoy the process. Few events in manufacturing are as exciting or dramatic as radically improving your workplace and the camaraderie of good people eagerly engaged in making the company better and stronger for everyone. Focus any of the programs described below at your company’s “Constraints” and you will increase throughput and profits while substantially reducing waste.

Lean On the Run:
Are you trying to “get Lean” on a budget? You might consider this very streamlined approach. Be aware, there are some pros and cons to this method.

Perhaps one of the most innovative approaches to implementing Lean quickly and with minimal downtime, “Lean On the Run” uses the experience and talents of a Lean Consultant/Facilitator, an assistant, and occasional help from the “team” or staff assigned to the area being improved.

In practical terms, an important area of business functioning is selected for rapid improvement to achieve defined goals and objectives. The “team” participates in a brief, but convincing training session and demonstration of Lean principles, after which they are released to the shop floor to begin work as usual.

This is where a traditional Kaizen Event or (Improvement Event) parts company with this approach. In a traditional Kaizen Event the entire team would stay intact after the initial training and begin addressing the issues on the floor. This is the preferred method for sure, but it is not always feasible due to one concern or another. Sometimes you simply must achieve a certain critical improvement very fast but can’t afford to take direct labor away from crucial processes. This method makes sense in this scenario.

The facilitator and assistant (a process expert) then get very busy progressing through a discovery process examining the target area and every aspect of its functioning. The pair carefully observes, learns the process, and solicits input from the operators/staff to acquire needed data. You might say the facilitator and assistant function something like a computer’s “CPU” gathering data, processing it, and then providing output for decision-making.

Most of the information gathered from operators can come through brief conversations while operators and staff are still “in the process.” This keeps production from realizing significant losses due to pulling staff completely out of operations they are performing.

Even though a great effort is made to not interrupt the workforce, periodically the team is “huddled” or gathered together to discuss observations, try out new methods, and make operational/functional decisions. When a clear vision of improvements needed is agreed upon by the team and management, a plan is developed to implement the improvements at the earliest opportunity. Consensus building is an important part of this process.

Generally speaking (but not always,) when you lack a consensus on a given improvement it indicates some flaw in the reasoning or execution of the improvement. It’s worth taking the time and making a real effort to ensure everyone is on-board before proceeding with changes. This is a safeguard as well as one of the ways you can more fully recapture some of the benefits of working as a team.

Normally, full implementation will require an 8-10 hr. commitment spread over a week’s time, for 6-10 people. This is less than 20% of the usual time needed for standard “Kaizen Events” or “Blitzes.”

Downtime is kept to a minimum by making major changes during off-shifts, temporarily building additional inventory to offset any interruptions, and other effective strategies. This approach works particularly well when companies have reduced staff or are simply too busy to slow or shut down production for extended periods.

This approach might be just what you need on occasion, but should not be your entire Lean program. Nothing beats the results you get when your staff is fully involved in a great Kaizen (Improvement) event and actively engaged in continuous improvement.