Success in Implementing Lean Takes an All-In Approach – Starting at the Top

Success in Implementing Lean Takes an All-In Approach – Starting at the Top

By Discovery Lean Six Sigma

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Profound changes don’t happen with half measures. Once it’s clear that an innovative approach can lead to better results, every member of an organization must have buy-in to achieve the desired results.

And it starts at the top.

Life is full of examples. In the world of sports, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his staff implemented changes in every phase of the game that has led to an unprecedented high level of success for almost two decades.

In business, the late Steve Jobs created a culture of innovation and creativity at Apple that resulted in groundbreaking communication technology and years of growth. In government, the Armed Forces have made Lean Six Sigma and process improvement a core discipline in creating the world’s most efficient and effective military.

But despite these examples, fostering a culture of innovation and process improvement still eludes organizations. Organizational support remains a big challenge.

Lean Applies to Every Industry

In almost every case of process improvement, Lean manufacturing and Kaizen events play a role.

Lean manufacturing focuses on cutting waste, improving efficiency, creating a culture of continuous improvement and always focusing on customer needs. It’s increasingly being adopted across all industries, including by young managers in many fields.

Kaizen fosters a focus on continuous improvement that involves making small, consistent changes that lead to big results. A Kaizen Event involves a few employees, typically led by a single person or entity, who work for a short, intensive period of time on brainstorming ideas to solve a specific business challenge.

Success in either case involves buy-in and support from top executives.

Application in the Real World

In an October 2018 article in The New York Times, examples of adapting Lean methodologies for success were offered from a variety of industries.

The Times wrote about Watlow, a 96-year-old family-owned company in St. Louis that designs components for thermal systems, including industrial heaters and temperature sensors. In 2006, Peter Desloge, the third generation CEO of the company, began implementing Lean methodologies.

One recent result was discovering that an unnecessary cover was being used on sensors shipped to clients, causing extra time in production and a delay for the clients who had to remove the unneeded cover.

That finding came from one of many Kaizen Events at Watlow, which holds about 60 Kaizen Events a year.

Take note that it started from the top and involved total management buy-in.

Desloge told The Times that a competitive business environment in his industry “forced us to figure out how to lower our costs while also better engaging our people.” He added that the company bought into Lean because it doesn’t just reduce costs and improve productivity but also ”increases value to our customers and engages everyone in the business to eliminate waste.”

Lean Production

Lean famously got its start with the Toyota Production System developed by the Japanese automaker starting in the 1940s. Much emulated today, the system helped Toyota become one of the most successful automobile manufacturers in the world, with the largest market cap of any car company at $214 billion.

Four decades later, research scientist James Womack, founder of the Boston-based Lean Enterprise Institute, created Lean Production based on the principles of the Toyota Production System. Lean Production focuses on eliminating waste, rethinking work flow and improving productivity at all levels of an organization, not just manufacturing.

In time, the tools and techniques have spread to enterprises in every industry, from large corporations to small businesses. As pointed out in Forbes, the foundational goals of Lean translate into every kind of process.

They include:

  • Eliminating waste
  • Creating a culture of continuous improvement
  • Respecting everyone in the workforce
  • Mistake-proofing your work
  • Implementing Just in Time production, which involves managing inventory and product creation based on consumer demand
  • Leveling your production schedule to provide daily consistency

Executive Buy-In Is Critical

The Toyota Production System was created by Taiichi Ohno, based on his own work and processes developed by engineers that came before him. Getting the system in place required training thousands of employees on creating a culture of continuous improvement, something Shigeo Shingo is famous for having helped do at Toyota for 20 years.

As noted by experts interviewed by The Times, a typical challenge in implementing Lean is that executives do not support the initiative long-term. Instead, there is a start-and-stop cycle with improvements. Or, it can happen in isolated corners of a company without spreading across all operations.

Getting executive buy-in for Lean can come down to three areas.

  • The bottom line – It must be understood by executives that the techniques and tools of Lean really do result in a better product and higher profits.
  • Explaining the process – When something is new, people often simply do not understand it because they don’t “speak the language.” Executives need to take the time to learn about Lean, its terminology and its applications to business process improvement.
  • Office politics – To break through traditional barriers, you must understand where they are. Executives should take the time to understand the personalities, habits and roadblocks in the workflow that impede process improvement.

No detail is too small. For example, Marc Braun, president of Massachusetts industrial heater and ventilation products company Cambridge Engineering, told The Times that an entry-level employee realized he was wasting time every day just throwing trash away.

The employee came up with the idea of attaching a trash can to his chair, cutting 15 steps. He continued to work with other employees to revise his idea, spreading it through his department. Eventually, they shaved an estimated 70 minutes from a 90-minute job, according to The Times article.

Such attention to detail is important, but the culture that encourages such thinking starts in the C-suites. Without a strong level of commitment and learning among company leaders, the advantages of Lean methodologies cannot be maximized.

The post Success in Implementing Lean Takes an All-In Approach – Starting at the Top appeared first on Six Sigma Daily.

By: James LoPresti
Posted: November 30, 2018, 2:52 pm

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