Five Lessons about Lean Manufacturing
Initiating and then sustaining a Lean Manufacturing strategy can be a daunting task, typically requiring your business to make a cultural and process transformation. If your company is looking to achieve Lean Manufacturing success, here are a few lessons to follow:
Align your Lean goals with your business goals up front
The misalignment of goals is often the reason for failed initiatives and what happens on the shop floor is no exception. When starting your Lean journey, make sure to define what success means for the overall business clearly and then align your Lean goals as well as resources with them.
Lean is about testing what works and what doesn’t
You don’t need years of experience with Lean Manufacturing to deploy a successful strategy. What you do need is a culture of personnel capable of experimenting with new ways for executing processes and the ability to make continuous improvements on the fly.
Starting a Lean journey is different from maintaining one in progress
When you begin a lean journey, you have to follow a set of principles rather than a formalized process. As time goes on, and new employees come on board, it’s important to start developing a scalable structure for how Lean should be taught and applied.
Make every employee not just a Lean practitioner but a Lean leader
Lean is very much a mindset. Professionals that have adapted Lean practices eventually find themselves applying its principles as second nature. Lean leaders display the following qualities:
- Superior observers: They observe not only the machines and the products but also spend significant time with employees. They are in contact with customers and can be an empathetic listener.
- Learners: They do not assume they know it all. Instead, they go to the floor to learn. They are in lifelong learning mode.
- Initiators: They plan, they articulate their plans, and they act on their plans.
- Teachers: They look for teachable moments. When something goes wrong, their first thought is not “who fouled up,” but “why did it fail,” and “how can I use this as a teaching opportunity?”
- Role models: They walk the talk.
- Supporters: They recognize they mainly get work done through others and have mastered the skills of “servant leadership.” The Servant Leadership Institute defines servant leadership as a leadership philosophy. Traditional leadership generally involves the exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid.” By comparison, the servant-leader shares power puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. Servant leadership turns the power pyramid upside down; instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people. When leaders shift their mindset and serve first, they unlock purpose and ingenuity in those around them, resulting in higher performance and engaged, fulfilled employees.
The Lean Manufacturing journey is a continuous improvement journey
Some leaders overthink the initiation of the Lean journey, assuming it can only begin once a robust plan is in place. For many businesses, it starts out as nothing more than an experiment. Refinement, calibration, and organizational buy-in are all part of the journey. When executed effectively, Lean can be self-sustaining, self-validating while scaling and maturing organically. Overall, a Lean Manufacturing concept takes a considerable amount of time and effort. But with the right approach, adjustments, and attitude, it can be attained.