I was shocked recently to hear that companies I knew had implemented strong lean programmes were now struggling to maintain some of the basic disciplines.
I was also surprised recently to hear some talks on how businesses are moving on from Lean to Innovation or Agile. It’s almost as though a box was ticked and Lean was done. Now it’s time to move on.
The Leadership team in any business establish the environment for continuous lean thinking and if they move on to the next goal, then that environment may move on too.
Lean does not succeed or fail on its own merits. It is an integral part of how any business is run but must be aligned to the business goals and must be delivered through its employees.
Jeffrey Liker provides an insight in his opening chapter of “The Toyota Way”
Why Companies Often Think They Are Lean—But Aren’t
When I first began learning about TPS, I was enamoured of the power of one-piece flow. The more I learned about the benefits of flowing and pulling parts as they were needed, rather than pushing and creating inventory, the more I wanted to experience the transformation of mass production processes into lean processes first hand. I learned that all the supporting tools of lean such as quick equipment changeovers, standardised work, pull systems, and error proofing, were all essential to creating flow.
But along the way, experienced leaders within Toyota kept telling me that these tools and techniques were not the key to TPS. Rather the power behind TPS is a company’s management commitment to continuously invest in its people and promote a culture of continuous improvement.
I nodded like I knew what they were talking about and continued to study how to calculate kanban quantities and set up one-piece flow cells.
After studying Toyota for almost 20 years and observing the struggles companies have had applying lean manufacturing, what these Toyota teachers (called sensei) told me is finally sinking in”.
At ETAC, we have supported many Lean programmes. As in many cases, the best learning usually comes from the ones that didn’t go as well as expected. When we examine why this happened, our conclusion was that we didn’t spend enough time to engage the leadership team and to define their role in the lean improvement.
Like Jeffrey Liker, many business owners want to see the implementation of the Lean Tools – 5s has an immediate impact & the benefit of SMED is easy to measure. But once the projects are completed and the box is ticked, why isn’t everyone just getting on with it and doing more?
The environment is created with clarity on the organisation’s purpose and the client needs. This clarity needs to translate into key business measures. These measures need to be made relevant in each employees working role. The performance against these measures needs to be communicated to all of our people. Commitment is required to support our people to achieve the required standards and to provide an environment for them to advise on the actions that are needed to improve the performance.
You may be interested in Lean Leadership support in your business and putting these ideas into practice?
Click here to contact the team at ETAC or enquire about our Lean Leadership programme.