The Lean Report

By Tom Southworth | April 8, 2008

Questions and Answers

Since the inception of this column in July 2007 I've been writing about Lean and printing from a theoretical or academic viewpoint. For this month's column I wanted to provide some "real life" examples, so I've pulled some questions that were emailed to me from readers and have provided my answers and suggestions to them.


Our manufacturing group was introduced to Lean about a year ago, but we haven't fully implemented it yet. I am new to facilitating these projects and the challenges I am facing are (1) gaining buy-in and support of the Lean efforts from management, and (2) sustaining the efforts. A good number of our manufacturing employees are very resistant to the changes and I'm also looking for ways to open their minds a bit more. Anything you can offer would be appreciated.

Our Lean initiative came from upper management with a primary motivation to decrease downtime related to setup. We dove into things a little too quickly without building a solid Lean foundation. What I mean is that there were some VSM (value stream mapping) and Kaizen activities early on before solidifying our grasp on 5S and Standard Work, which led to a lot of good ideas not being carried out or followed up on. They were not sustainable without that foundation. Several of the middle management members were not sold on the Lean theories initially and this just served to increase their beliefs. We are now in the process of backing up and getting things back on track, but the production crew is weary at best. They have seen some gains from what we've been doing, but I'm looking for more ways to get them excited about what we could do again.

What this reader describes is typical of 95 to 98 percent of companies who attempt "Lean." Management has heard some good things, so they "try it out" like they're trying on a pair of pants to see if they like the fit.

One of the first things that all parties need to agree on is this: What is your common ground? By common ground I mean mutually agreed upon reasons that you are in business. The obvious answer in a for-profit company is to make money; after all, you're not a charity. No money equals no paycheck, so there shouldn't be any disagreement on this. Anyone who doesn't agree that you're in business to make money should be shown the door.

A second area of common ground is the answer to the question "How will we make money?" On this, too, there should be no debate. You make money by selling more products, faster, with better quality, and at lower cost than your competitors. No one, from the most anti-change press operator to the top ranking executive, should have any argument with this either. There shouldn't even be any debate about it. You're not in business to be slower and deliver a lower quality product that's more expensive, right?

Once everyone is on common ground about why your company exists, you can reintroduce Lean (even without calling it Lean or any other name) by saying "OK, we all agree that in order for us to make money (and get paychecks) we need to always be faster, better, and cheaper than the next guy."
Underlying this, always, is safety. You must think and act with safety as your No. 1 priority. So how can you make your particular machine, area, department, or plant better, faster, and cheaper while still being safe?

If you ask the question in this way chances are you'll get lots of "Lean" ideas without anyone even realizing that they're walking the Lean talk. After a few months of making things better, faster and cheaper, you'll be able to say to the Lean naysayers "Hey, this is all great stuff. Now where have I heard ideas like this before? Oh yeah, I remember now. It was back when we were introducing LEAN!" Or, you can just continue and not call it anything other than the way you do business which, after all, is what Lean is really about.


I wonder if you could give me any suggestions for specific training on 5S? I am having a hard time getting through to our supervisors why 5S is important. We are consistently successful so it has been very difficult to sell any Lean concept beyond TPM (total productive maintenance) to the floor managers. They just don't see the need.

First, you can't help someone who doesn't have a problem, so you need to help these floor managers see the problem. Take several photographs in the shop so you can point out areas that are crying out for attention. Make sure these photographs zoom in on a specific problem area and are not simply a wide-angle panorama of the entire shop floor. The devil is in the detail and you need to show the detail.

5S is a proven method to identify and eliminate waste or muda (Japanese for waste). 5S helps you to see obstacles to continuous flow (mura) and eliminate overburdening people or equipment (muri). 5S, when properly understood and implemented, is in my opinion the most important tool in the Lean tool kit. I always advise printers to implement 5S first before anything else is done, even value stream mapping.

Now, that's somewhat of a contentious subject in the Lean community – sort of a chicken and egg argument. Which should come first: 5S or value stream mapping? My opinion (which is just an opinion, and opinions are neither right or wrong) is that a company that has never engaged in a Lean transformation before, or one whose Lean journey has slowed or stopped, should implement 5S.

There are several reasons:

- 5S can provide immediate safety improvements (which should always be number one on anyone's list);
- 5S is the easiest and most visible Lean tool;
- 5S engages everyone in the company, not just a select few team members;
- 5S, when done properly and sustained, can have a bottom line impact even if nothing else is ever done vis-à-vis Lean;
- A bright, clean and orderly workplace is a safer and more productive workplace.

A company's success or failure with 5S tells me everything I need to know about whether or not that company's management team is committed to Lean. If you cannot sustain 5S you just don't have what it takes for a real Lean transformation.

There is more than enough muda in any shop to keep some 5S zealots going for quite a while. The more change that people can see the more they will be able to believe in Lean and in the company's commitment to real change, and that Lean is not just another "flavor of the month" program.


We are a folding carton print shop that produces pharma products exclusively. What type of takt rate or speeds should I be looking to attain?

Takt time is the available production time divided by customer demand, so the takt time or speed you should be looking to attain is whatever the demand rate is from your customers. Demand fluctuates, and so will your takt time. You should have a good handle on what your average demand is from your production histories, so start there and adjust your production as needed.

Overproduction is the most egregious waste of all, because it generates or hides many of the other "seven wastes" such as inventories, defects, and excessive transportation. Just because you can produce more doesn't mean you should produce more. If your average demand is 750,000 linear feet per month then your takt time should reflect this. For a shop that runs one shift, eight hours a day, five days a week, this means you should be producing at an average rate of about 90 feet per minute. Remember to use available production time; don't use lunch and break times in your calculations.

Take note that I said "average rate" and not "speed." Your press speeds may very well be much faster than 90 feet per minute but, again, if you run full out all day long, every day, you'll overproduce and not have the flexibility to fit in emergency orders or new customers. Also, you'll have far too much work-in-process and finished goods inventory, you'll be overburdening your people and your equipment, and you'll reduce your cash flow.

If you have questions or suggestions of your own, please don't hesitate to email me at tsouthworth@connstep.org.

Tom Southworth is a business development manager with CONNSTEP, Connecticut's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). CONNSTEP's mission is to help Connecticut manufacturers apply advanced manufacturing techniques and management methodologies to become more competitive. He is a senior member of ASQ, an ASQ Certified Manager of Quality & Organizational Excellence, and is an SME Lean Bronze Certified-Sensei. He can be reached by email at tsouthworth@connstep.org.

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