Lean is not a mysterious or exclusive club. Don’t let the terminology or ideology put you off what is a clear and easy to understand method of improving performance.
If you ask 20 lean practitioners this question, you’d probably get 20 different answers!
There is, of course, the “bible” version which centers on customer defined value, and outlines the four key principles of Lean:
- Identify Value
- Make Value Flow
- Pull Value
- Eliminate Waste
Those of you that enjoy the odd game of golf will welcome a less formal description of Lean:
“A bag full of tools (clubs) applied using a systematic approach.”
At Leading Edge Group, we have worked in so many different companies and industries, and have seen Lean used in such different and diverse environments, that it would be too restrictive and downright unfair to try to write out a single definition.
So instead we’ll answer the question by pointing to the best characteristics of an organisation that is well down the road of using Lean…
The first thing you’ll spot when visiting such an organisation is a lot of information VISUALLY DISPLAYED describing what’s going on. You’ll see KPIs clearly displayed, showing the good results and also the bad results. If you look a bit more closely, you’ll see that they are also systematically tracking their ability to fix problems. Their goal is to achieve steady CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT as opposed to waiting for a big project.
Now, ask a few questions of the staff and you’ll find that EVERYBODY is able to give you an answer about what they do in their VALUE STREAM, how it fits into the overall business, and what they are doing to improve their element. In short, they are all EMPOWERED and energised!
Next take a walk around the site and you’ll be able to very easily see and understand the way the process works, with FLOW of product or processes laid out in a simple and clear way. And by the way, the site is not just tidy, it’s SPOTLESS. Everything is well organised and is labelled and has a defined storage location. At each workstation you might see a 5S audit sheet which they use to SUSTAIN this level of organisation. You will see staff performing functions in CELLS with BALANCED WORK elements.
Now a few things you won’t see: You won’t see a lot of excess movement of people or material. You most certainly will not see long queues of material in front of a process, or high levels of inventory stored anywhere in the process. You won’t find people doing rework or stations dedicated to inspection, because the quality is built in to a STANDARDISED process. You won’t see a lot of computer print outs or reports.
If you ask somebody how they know what job to work on next, they may point you to a visual priority board, or perhaps they will show you their simple KANBAN system which creates a PULL on their process only when a downstream operation needs more from them. You will see well-choreographed activities that constitute a RAPID CHANGEOVER when setting up the lines for a different job.
If this sounds like the kind of place you want to work in, then Lean is your ticket. All the tools, applied in a systematic approach, with the empowerment of the entire workforce will get you there!