In the 1950’s, Toyota, developed the Toyota Production System, a novel manufacturing approach, that allowed them to rapidly produce high quality automobiles at a low cost to the customer (described here). Toyota focused on the flow of the product through the total process and elimination of any waste in the process. The term “lean manufacturing” was coined in 1988 and defined in 1996 by James Womack and David T Jones. Nowadays, nearly every company in the world has implemented lean practices in their operations and production processes. But, not all of these lean initiatives have been successful or linked to financial improvements. Some companies with active lean programs will still have poor on-time delivery, overtime, poor performance on turns targets and backlogs. But, why have these companies’ lean efforts failed? Here we discuss a variety of factors, that we have learned first-hand from lean manufacturing initiatives.

All data and no action

When you conduct a current state assessment in a manufacturing plant, what you will generally find is lots and lots of data in lots of and lots of spreadsheets. Lean in manufacturing is not a new concept and collecting data and measuring performance is a commonly accepted practice. However, many companies are data rich and information poor. Unless action is taken from that data the data itself is useless. Some companies collect so much data that they can’t “see the leaves from the trees” and miss obvious wastes in the process. Instead the real value is when data is used effectively to identify opportunities and wastes and make improvement changes.

Lean, misunderstood

One of the common misconceptions that we have found in manufacturing, is a focus on waste eliminate alone (Muda). While removing waste (defects, overproduction, waiting etc) in the process is important, there is far more to lean. What you will find is volatility in resourcing. Different numbers of operators scheduled for the 1st shift during the day versus the 2nd shift during the evening despite similar workloads. Scheduling is daily which enhances the volatility instead of an forecast planning. There may be procedures but often a lack of standardized work (the best most efficient way to structure the day). Missed opportunities to batch produce or gang test. Tacking volatility in the process (Mura) and unevenness (Muri) through leveling, flow and standard work will produce even greater impacts on performance and costs.

A lean philosophy

As lean has gained popularity to solve organizational problems, there is a tendency to assume that lean can be quickly and easily implemented in one fell swoop. And, while lean initiatives are very successful, they do require a broad organizational change in culture and mindset and it takes time to achieve these results. All lean implementations should be accompanied with a mindset and behavioral workshop and training on lean basics and concepts. Lean is a philosophy and the goal should be that all personnel becomes lean practitioners of that philosophy.

One size does not fit all

Implementing lean, involves a defined methodology, a lean transformation framework (the house of lean). A house is used because it illustrates how to build a structure that will support itself and the order in which lean should be implemented. Whereby you lay a solid stable “foundation” using leveling, standardized work and Kaizen events. Followed by the “pillars” of flow and pull in the system and reduction of defects. Finally the “roof” is the value that you create for your customer, producing the highest quality product in the shortest time at the lowest cost. However, what you will find in practice is that not all aspects of the lean framework fit well or are even appropriate. Some companies will fit neatly into the framework, whereas other companies will have high demand volatility making leveling difficult. Other companies will have supply chain complexity and mix volatility making leveling and flow challenging. Still other companies will have global teams meaning virtual visual management is a better approach than a standard whiteboard approach. The point is, although there is a defined lean approach it must be adapted and customized to fit the company by experienced lean practitioners. If you would like more information please contact us.