Are You Getting The Most From Lean Implementation?

So you have learned about the benefits of lean manufacturing, trained many of your employees on lean concepts and rolled out some process improvement events in you operation. Yet you have not, thus far, seen the benefits you had hoped for.

So you have learned about the benefits of lean manufacturing, trained many of your employees on lean concepts and rolled out some process improvement events in you operation. Yet you have not, thus far, seen the benefits you had hoped for. You wonder if this "lean stuff" is really just another flavor of the month that is destined to go the way of so many of your company's prior initiatives. Before you give up, ask yourself whether you are really driving the lean implementation or simply "wishing for success."

There are too many companies in the United States and around the world that have had success implementing lean manufacturing techniques to think they are just a fad. The Toyotas, Harley Davidsons, General Electrics and thousands of others who have had success would argue that anyone can do it, but it does require discipline and the desire for success.

Where does your implementation stand? Is everyone trained? Does communication run rampant? Does everyone really understand what is expected? Is there true employee buy-in? Is the implementation timetable reasonable, considering the fact that you still have to run a business? Does anyone follow up to see if there are problems that need resolution? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then the failure of the implementation rests squarely on the shoulders of your organization. In fact, it is likely that if prior improvement efforts failed in your company, you can point to the same reasons.

Let's start with the first concern: training. Training is a two-way street. As someone who does a great deal of training, I can assure you that there are two things to consider. First, there is the training itself, which must be well organized and provided by someone with vast experience with the topic. However, just as important is the need for learning. For most companies, interactive, hands-on training works best. To put someone in a classroom for half of a day and then expect them to implement significant change is unrealistic. Ideally, training should be immediately followed by some form of application of the training. If you are training on the 5S system of workplace organization, then everyone attending should work on a 5S implementation effort in a specific area. It is through real-life experience that many people learn new concepts most effectively.

Once you completed the training, were expectations clearly communicated in a timely manner? In the case of a quick change-over effort,was a target percentage time reduction established? Were the concepts that were discussed in the training, such as off-line preparation of parts, tools and equipment, put into place? Were the procedural changes that were deemed necessary supported by management or other departments? Was there ever a planning meeting to determine when the quick change-over effort would begin?

Regarding employee buy-in, was the improvement described in such a way as to make things easier for everyone, rather than expecting everyone to do more in the same (or less time)? Were the concerns expressed by stakeholders listened to, or did the effort get steamrolled? If you wanted to change the way the work was scheduled from a computerized dispatch list to a pull system based on consumption, did employees really understand and feel comfortable with the new process? Did everyone believe the system would work?

Next, was your implementation time frame reasonable? Was time allowed to complete all tasks? Were other duties reassigned or temporarily suspended to accommodate the time required to implement the changes? Did one or two key people end up with a majority of the work and quickly feel overwhelmed? Were there just too many things going on at the time to expect a successful outcome?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, did anyone follow up with the people responsible for implementing the change to see if it was done? In many organizations, there is a culture of the status quo. In such a culture, employees don't see any reason to improve, either.

In such a culture, it is not uncommon for employees to procrastinate unless they are asked to do something twice (figuring if it is really important, someone will follow up with them). Simply asking about the status of an effort conveys a sense of importance and urgency.

Ask yourself the above questions and see if your results have stemmed from self-imposed deficiencies in your organization. It may not be too late to reverse the course and get your lean manufacturing implementation back on track.