Written by Jason Haines

“All the tools and engines on earth are only extensions of man’s limbs and senses.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Over many centuries people who have struggled completing tasks at hand have developed tools needed to finish the job and save time. Sometimes out of pure accidental luck and sometimes out of ingenuity. Humans didn’t always take to tools, and sometimes stubbornly refused to use them, because we were afraid these tools would take our jobs. Workers would make excuses as to why they could not or would not use the tools given, even those these tools were designed to help workers from doing the remedial tasks.

All the tools developed over the years were made in order to make the job of the worker easier. Humans developed the hammer to help the carpenter, the wheel to help the person transporting material, the calculator to help the banker, and the computer to help store more information without paper. These tools were designed to help make jobs easier and provide support so the workers could concentrate on other, more important tasks. All made to make life and jobs easier and more efficient.

The Lean toolbox is no different. The Lean tools are made to help make the jobs of the leaders and frontline workers much easier. They are made so we are working on the process rather than managing the employees. They are made to reduce the time to solve problems throughout the process. The tools, such as standard work, can be used to reduce training time of employees and the leader can build relationships with their frontline employees. Lean tools also provide a baseline so frontline employees know what to expect from their work and can do the job more efficiently. Let’s take a look at a few of the Lean tools and how they can help you today.

5S

Taiichi Ohno developed 5S, called 4S back then, in order to help get Toyota onto the right track. He developed this tool when he was trying to find problems at the frontline and was dealing with too much clutter. This chaos that was keeping him from finding the real issues. This is why Ohno developed the 4S program into Toyota. Today we call it 5S, 5S+, or 6S even as we keep adding more S’s into the mix. But they are all meant to help with one goal, organizing and standardizing the work area in order to be able to manage the process and not the people. When 5S is implemented correctly it can be very valuable to both leaders and frontline employees because it will help pinpoint problems before they arise and can be solved much easier. This will free up valuable time for all to do more value-added activities in the organization.

Value Stream or any Other Mapping Activity

Another tool that helps with both teamwork and learning the connections of the processes throughout an organization is the Value Stream Map, or any other mapping tool. These maps help organizations, leaders, and frontline employees understand how things are connected and the areas that they can attack to make improvements. This tool can also help us by showing the connections and flows of our business and help understand the small intricacies of how our business works. Showing suppliers, customers, information, and the processes we can see everything and understand where improvements can be made and how it affects the whole process.

Root Cause Analysis

Whether this is done through the Ishikawa Diagram, Fishbone Diagram, using the Five Whys, or any other brainstorming method we can find things that we didn’t expect. When we dig deep into a problem it helps give us the answers, we need in order to make the changes that we need. This tool helps drive teamwork and insight that finds deeper problems throughout the process. When we find the deeper problems, it makes fixing the real problem much easier. This helps give the leaders more time to build on teamwork and creating a much more cohesive team that is open to communicating with each other and not holding things back.

Standard Work, or the Visual Workplace

Showing people how to do their job isn’t good enough, telling people how to do their job isn’t good enough, we must show and tell them at the same time. Having Standard Work put into place helps us as leaders more easily train and prepare workers. This simple method will have brief descriptions of what to do along with pictures on how to do the jobs. This information along with other things such as takt time and setup makes for great visual management. Visual management can be set up for anything within your factory and can allow people to understand the work that they do and how it helps people know the score. Just like in a sports game, frontline workers want to know where they stand and how they are doing in real time.

We can show people how they are doing in real time with by creating control charts, or Shewart’s diagrams. These SPC charts will help to track how the process is going throughout the day, month, year and allow everyone tracking the process to know where they stand at all times. These charts make it easy to see if there is a problem wit the process or if the goals we set are being reached. We can use them for anything and make the proper changes that are needed because everyone knows what is going on. Making communication easier and putting us on full alert as to what the numbers currently mean and how to use them.

Conclusion

Though these may not be all the tools that in the Lean journey, these are some of the tools that we can use to make our jobs easier. Just like a carpenter uses a hammer to drive a nail, we Lean practitioners use the Lean tools to help us lead our people and build relationships throughout. Use them wisely and they will make us better. We need them just like they need us.

Helping grow your business through process improvement!!