Over these three years I've gone into many Lean and related topics: 5S, value stream mapping, quick changeover (SMED or set up reduction), kanban, training, etc. What I thought I would do in this column is to take a step back, away from the tactical tools of Lean, and take a more holistic, 10,000-foot view of Lean as it pertains to the entire business, or what we refer to as Enterprise-wide Lean.
No cookie-cutter approach to Lean
I and many others have stated that there is no one way to "go Lean." There is no one book, no road map, and no checklist that exists that will guide a company to become a Lean Enterprise. Every industry is different and every business in every industry is different from every other company engaged in that same industry. This is due to many factors – overhead, markets served, location, and so forth – but every company is unique because every company has different people, a different culture, a different "vibe," a different and sometimes intangible "way" that the business runs.
So your approach to Lean will be different from another company, even one with the same clients, equipment, suppliers and such, and while there are many approaches that may be taken to become a Lean Enterprise, there are a few common threads within that have been proven to be a winning formula.
Lean needs leaders – not cheerleaders
Lean doesn't just happen. It needs to be led from the top. It is imperative that a significant amount of a leader's time be dedicated to the Lean effort, regardless of functional responsibilities.
For those of you who may not already know, I've been in the printing industry, primarily in labels, in a number of management roles for more than 23 years, and I've been involved in Lean or continuous improvement for nearly that entire time. I can tell you without any hesitation that a Lean transformation that is not led by the top executive or top site leader is bound to fail. Lean transformations that are led by the top site leader or top executive succeed. I've said this before: Leaders must be leaders, not cheerleaders. If leaders don't lead, the promise and full potential of a truly Lean Enterprise will never come to fruition.
So just what do we mean by Enterprise-wide Lean? If you've followed this column over the past three years or have attended a seminar or listened to a webcast that I've conducted, you might have noticed that I rarely, if ever, use the word "manufacturing" whenever I speak about Lean. This isn't a mistake on my part, but rather a deliberate effort to steer people away from the conventional belief that Lean is strictly for manufacturers and, more specifically, only the manufacturing or shop floor. Nothing could be further from the truth. Lean is applicable to and is appropriate for the entire enterprise – your entire business – hence the name Enterprise-wide Lean.
To really understand this, we need to break down just what Lean is and, just as important, what Lean is not. Lean is "a systematic approach to identifying and eliminating waste (non-value added activities) through continuous improvement by flowing the product at the pull of the customer in pursuit of perfection." This is the commonly accepted definition of Lean as put forward by the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Identifying and eliminating waste
I've written before about waste. Waste in a Lean enterprise is "anything other than the minimum amount of equipment, materials, parts, space, and worker's time which are absolutely necessary to add value to the product" (Shoichiro Toyoda). The goal of any Lean Enterprise is to continuously attack and eliminate anything that causes additional equipment, material usage, parts, space or time to be used in order to meet customer demand. That is continuous improvement.
Reduce waste and free up time, both in equipment and manpower, to be able to produce more orders for more customers. Be more responsive than your competitors; provide your customers what they want, when they want it – that's what you need to do to stay in front of your competition. This is a continuous process. Just because you're doing well today doesn't mean your competitors won't pass you by tomorrow.
To start out on your Lean transformation you need to educate yourself. There are numerous books, blogs, and other resources out there. Get them. Read them. Learn them. Visit companies in your area that are practicing Lean and ask to participate in an upcoming continuous improvement event. Note that I said participate. I didn't say watch or observe. Don't be what others have called an "industrial tourist." Actively participate and learn; don't just stand there and watch.
"If you don't know where you are going,
any road will get you there." — Lewis Carroll
Failure to adequately plan, in my humble opinion, is one of the single greatest reasons that most Lean implementations fail. Some say it is the single greatest reason. There are numerous ways that you can do this but, regardless of how you plan, you must start with the voice of the customer. What does the customer want? You might have the greatest widget ever invented, but if no one wants it then you've just wasted a lot of time and money. Meanwhile your competitors are providing your customers with products and services that they actually need.
Perform a SWOT analysis. What are your Strengths and Weaknesses, and what are the Opportunities and Threats out there in the marketplace? Work on changing those weaknesses to strengths and find opportunity in every threat.
Have a vision and establish goals
Create a vision, a mental image or picture of what your future company will look like. It should be measurable and time based. If you can't do this then you cannot expect your customers or your employees to, either. Create a BHAG – a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal, and go for it!
Establish goals that will drive you toward achieving that big, hairy audacious goal. What must you do in the next 12, 24, 36 and 48 months in order to achieve your vision of the future? Your 48-month goals are just as important as your 12-month goals. Don't wait until the 45th month to start working on them.
Map your value streams
Now that you have a vision and a strategy, start mapping out where you stand today vis-à-vis that vision and your goals. Create current and future state maps for one or more of the critical value streams that will drive you toward your goal. This doesn't have to be an onerous, tortuous exercise. Creating a vision, establishing strategic goals and mapping your value streams can be done in a week or less.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Leaders lead from the front. Be an active participant in your Lean transformation and not merely a supporter of it. Show everyone that this truly is a new direction for the company, a new way of running the business, and is not merely another flavor of the month.
Demand impressive results
Your big, hairy, audacious goal needs to be just that. Don't tolerate mediocrity. If you do you will get mediocre results. People must know and accept that the same old, same old is no longer acceptable.
Continuously update the plan
Market conditions will change. Customer demands will change. Technology will change. You must stay on top of your plan and adjust accordingly. What passes for the status quo today was unheard of yesterday and will be obsolete by tomorrow. Continuous improvement really means continuous improvement.
Assess your current condition in the market place and plan for your future. Educate yourself and all of your employees on what that plan is and how you're going to achieve it. Implement the plan and keep steering as you go – don't let go of the wheel. Continuously train yourself and your employees on newer and better ways to find and eliminate waste and you will be able to sustain your improvements and be well on your way to becoming a Lean Enterprise.
Tom Southworth is a Lean consultant with CONNSTEP, Connecticut's Manufacturing Extension Partnership. He is a Senior Member of ASQ, an ASQ Certified Manager of Quality & Organizational Excellence, an SME Lean Bronze Certified sensei, and a certified TWI Job Instruction Trainer. He can be reached by email at tsouthworth@ connstep.org.