In my 30 plus years of leading Lean in a wide range of companies, I’ve learned common practices that work in virtually every setting. Here’s a list of implementation tips that for me continues to grow with more experience. I welcome you to share suggestions.
But first, for an informal list such as this to have any value, you must first organize for Lean. This means changing your organizational structure from a functional batch approach to a lean value stream approach. The value stream leader and team members are then responsible for servicing the customer directly as opposed to the traditional approach of “making the forecast.” They make the product based on the direct pull of the customer. This makes everyone in the company focus on the customer.
Eliminating waste in order to deliver value to the customer is always the priority. In manufacturing, this means creating a structure where you can drop the customer’s incoming orders directly on the shop floor at the cell level. In any other setting, it means linking the work of the front-line worker directly to customer demand, which helps every employee make the connection with the customer. This in turn helps everyone understand why removing the internal waste in order to better serve the customer is so important. Another chance at learning how to do everything better.
Once you have this structure in place, I recommend that you:
- Start with multiple kaizen events to shift from batch to flow physically. Use these kaizen events as a great source of hands-on training and get everyone on as many kaizen events as possible.
- Have the Kaizen Promotion Office (or whatever you call your lean leaders) and team leaders do weekly gemba walks to follow up on kaizen results and implementation lists.
- Establish visual controls and daily management with each cell or work team that is created.
- Train supervisors and team leaders in problem-solving methods such as Five Why, A3, DMAIC, and similar methods so that everyone adopts this approach. Teach all team members these same problem-solving methods, keeping in mind that the best way to learn this approach is by doing.
- Create a suggestion program on ways to eliminate waste for all employees. Ask each cell or team leader to come up with one waste-eliminating idea per week.
- In manufacturing, ensure that team leaders, managers, and all leaders (middle and top management) are on the shop floor constantly, checking the production control boards, observing the work, talking to people and understanding how to help and support them. In other settings, make sure leaders visit the places where real value-creating work is being done, talking with front line workers and coaching problem solving there.
- Make sure hour-by-hour production control boards are kept up to date and that countermeasures are in place to get back on track. Hold weekly update meetings for the value stream leaders to present their progress on the five or six key operational excellence measurements.
- Create standard work and insist that standard work be constantly improved upon. Provide quality circle time for each team to discuss improvements.
- Conduct an annual employee survey and follow up on it with every team.
- Establish profit sharing so everyone can share in the gains.
- Set stretch targets that challenge people and make them think and learn. Constantly raise the targets to foster more learning and waste elimination.
- Never blame anyone for failure. In fact, encourage failure as a means of learning to get better.
- Always look for and be willing to take the “leaps of faith” required to get better. Never retreat, solve the problems, and move forward.