How Can Lean Manufacturing Help Your Company?

Written by Jason Haines
“Why not make the work easier and more interesting so that people do not have to sweat? The Toyota style is not to create results by working hard. It is a system that says there is not limit to people’s creativity. People don’t go to Toyota to ‘work’ they go there to ‘think.’” Eliyahu M. Goldratt

Many of the businesses out there always talk about wanting to have a way to empower, or get their employees to think of ways to come up with ideas. Solving problems and freeing the leaders and frontline employees from bureaucracy that causes systems to bog down and become frustrating to all. I was one of those leaders that was looking for a way to help and free people and myself from being chained to the job and not making improvements to it. We were all just busy and never making any changes. That is when I discovered Lean thinking in full. I had dabbled in the Lean concepts, but never got a chance to apply it fully to a facility to help everyone.

A lot of times people hear the term Lean and they think that it only applies to manufacturing and no other type of industry. Or the typical answer when a place is told that we are introducing Lean here most peoples answer will be that that will not work in our place. Most of the time it won’t work, but that is not for the reason that you probably are thinking. The reason it won’t work is because people, and management don’t want it to work. They all fight against it and do not work to make Lean work in their workplace. These companies do not push forward and see the benefits of less work, and a workforce that is empowered and able to think and solve problems that arise.

Over the years I have seen that many times there are a couple reasons that frontline employees fight against Lean and implementing it into the facility. One reason is they are used to the typical “Flavor of the Month,” management speak implementations that come along and go away. We have all been through these. They usually last for very little time because there was no real plan to implement the new program, or they last up to the time the new manger gets promoted and the program disappears to never be heard of again. If there is no vision any implementation will fail, and if the employees see that the manager is only trying to advance there will be failure as well.

The second reason Lean fails in companies is because a lot of the employees and leaders do not know the real benefits and are not educated on how it can help everyone. They are not educated in Lean and have not researched it. Most people in the early days of Lean only seen it as a way for companies to eliminate jobs in order for a corporation to save money and have a lower cost product. But this was not the reason for Lean. Lean was so companies could learn how to eliminate wastes from their processes and help all employees solve problems and make improvements. The number one thing most leaders need to know is that you must show and teach the benefits of Lean to your employees. It will help you grow over time and also create a much more resilient work force and company. Education is and using what you learned are key to helping anything succeed at your job and in life.

After you and your company start to use what you have learned about Lean this is when people start seeing the benefits. Everyone starts to see how their jobs become easier. People are able to help each other out and see problems before they arise. Floor space, or desk space is starting to clear up because there is much less work-in-process (WIP) has been reduced due to the efficiencies gained. While all this is going on managers will be able to spend more time with their employees and build relationships that they could not in the past. Building relationships is a key aspect of Lean and helps grow and sustain the whole process within a facility.

Other places that you and your company can get started would be to go to the Gemba, or where the work is being done by the frontline employees. When you are doing these observations ask plenty of questions, take plenty of notes, as many people in Lean say, ask Why Five Times, and find out why certain work is being done. Try to find ways to make improvements while you are there making the observations and make the ones you can immediately. Please do not get frustrated with the frontline workers if something doesn’t go well at first. Remember that they are learning this as well.

Put the frontline employees at ease and explain to them why you are there. People will have more respect for you if you let them know what your purpose is. I did this in a recent, before the Covid shutdown, plant that I visited. I was observing one of their processes and as I was observing I was asking questions and letting the employees in this department what I was doing there. This will help both you gain their respect and also help put them at ese that you are not there to take their jobs. People want to be heard and that is a major purpose of what lean can do for your company.

Many times when Lean is being implemented we get lost in the tools and forget that it is about changing the culture for the better. The tools are there to help you as a leader and give guidance to the employees. Like a carpenter needs a hammer to pound a nail, a leader needs Five S to help guide the employees into the direction of using and implementing Lean. With the tools we are teaching people the types of actions we want them to take to make a better product and company.

Lean helps companies by lessening the amount of steps in the system. Which in turn helps employees to become thinkers rather than doers. Doers are always busy and really never trying to improve their jobs because they are always to busy to improve. Thinkers are finding better ways to improve their jobs, making the jobs less stressful and happier at their jobs. Toyota believed that they didn’t want people to come to work to work, but they wanted them to com to work to think and improve. This is how Toyota built quality into their processes and systems. Showing respect for their people and giving them the chance to grow with the company.

If you want your company to move to the next level and become better at what you are currently doing, then Lean methods would be the best way to go. It helps to eliminate parts of processes that aren’t needed, clean and organize your facility to see problems and solve problems as they arise, and it sets standards to help a company no where to start and make training new employees easier. All these things are very beneficial to the company and the leaders of the company.

Why wouldn’t you want to implement lean into your facility?

Helping you grow your business through process improvement!!