Many people already know this, but I have to say it anyway. Lean is not a set of tools. You don’t go “lean out” a process. Implementing kanban to replace MRP won’t make you lean. Brainwashing leaders to say, “batching is bad- one piece flow is good”, won’t make you lean.
Lean is not even done, it’s a mindset. It exists in a culture. It’s like saying, “Tomorrow, I’m going to do spirituality”. Yes, it’s true that there are many lean principles and tools that are practiced as a complete system to advance you in your lean journey. However, you must always remember that it is a continuous journey and you will never be able to say, “We did lean”.
Around the time that I first started understanding lean, I got (suckered) talked into coaching the company softball team. I don’t know how, I barely know the basics of softball, much less how to coach a team. One evening, in the middle of a particularly embarrassing game, I noticed my Japanese boss (and a lean mentor) sitting on the bench grinning from ear to ear. When I asked him what it was that he found so much joy in as the rest of us were kicking the ground, he told me that he loved watching the harmony of the game. Sometimes a life lesson lands in the funniest of places. I started to think deeply about harmony. I stated to understand the harmony of lean. Each piece of the lean puzzle actually relates to each other and compliments each other in order to create harmony on the shop floor. We had already begun our lean journey and began implementing tools, but I was now starting to understand the relationships. The more I understood, the more I was able to hone my ability to know what to do next.
Let’s look at the relationship of some of the tools and understand why the complete system is so important. The ultimate goal is to fulfill the customer requirements in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of resources possible. In order to satisfy the customer demand, you need to calculate takt time and your cycle time must match it. But in order to calculate takt time, you must have a stable daily target, so you need to level load. To make sure you are on track to hitting your target, you will want to monitor it on a constant, real-time basis using visual controls like hourly tracking sheets. Equipment reliability is a must, so TPM and only using thoroughly tested technology is best practice. In order to design the line to reach the takt time with the least amount of waiting time, line balance and time study are used. In order to sustain the designed process, standard work is used. To make sure everything is where it needs to be, when it needs to be, 5S is required. To avoid quality problems, we use concepts like jidoka, in station quality control and poka yoke. To ensure the right product is brought to the line at the right time, kanban is used. If it looks like something isn’t happening the way it should, andon is used. To monitor the entire system, visual factory and shop floor metrics are used. When problems need to be solved, PDCA is used. This is only a simple walkthrough and it really doesn’t do justice to the fact that they are all very related. For instance, 5S is part of TPM and TPM is required for jidoka.
What does it take for all of this to take place? The first thing is a deep understanding of and commitment to Lean, starting at the top levels of the organization. This is vital!! Awareness, initiative, self discipline, commitment to long term thinking, and clearly communicating through all levels of the organization that the goal is to create a continuous improvement culture that consistently finds new ways to drive waste out of the company in order to provide value to the customers. They must insist that respect for people is paramount by developing suppliers, respecting and educating employees as well as providing customers with outstanding service.
“Many good American companies have respect for individuals, and practice kaizen and other TPS tools. But what is important is having all the elements together as a system. It must be practiced every day in a very consistent manner, not in spurts, in a concrete way on the shop floor.” -Fujio Cho, President, Toyota Motor Corporation
So the above example does not even come close to defining an entire system, it is meant to be an illustration that lean is an intricate system that works in harmony backed by an unwavering commitment beginning at the management level.
I apologize if some of you are not familiar with some of the terms and acronyms, but I am most assuredly going to create some material on each and every one in the future, so sign up for notices of new posts on the side bar. I will also be expanding on “commitment” in many other posts. Please note that I said, “it starts at the top levels of the organization”, but it sure doesn’t end there.