“Lean Forward”

Lean manufacturing. We think we know what this is. It’s about eliminating waste and creating production efficiencies with less people, isn’t it? Being a clean and organized operation? I mean, that sounds right… right? But what would the champions of “Lean” say? This year at the 2017 Continuous Improvement Conference held in Pittsburgh, PA, I listened with a new interest to the successes and failures of companies who finally got lean right. Having heard four days worth of fresh insights, here are two foundations on which to build any continuous improvement initiative.

 

Change Your Approach

Cultivating a functional and sustainable lean work environment doesn’t start with the process. It starts with the people who work the process. Leaders are often guilty of thinking of themselves as hired-guns. Solo acts. They offer the solutions, they answer the problems, and dictate rather than discuss. But lean, as I’ve learned, deviates from this mindset… this top-down management. Lean at its core is about the people and harnessing the power of team-based collaborative problem solving. This approach gives employees ownership of the work they do and helps facilitate a pride in doing it. When people know they are included in making the process better, that their opinion is actually considered, that they are influencers rather than laborers, the seed for lean culture is planted. As lean then matures and is implemented, leaders become coaches. Employees transform from doers to solvers.  Communication alters from ambiguous and boring to visual and engaging. Now your lean journey has roots!

 

It Doesn’t Work for Us

This is often the mindset of so many organizations. Lean can’t work for us. We are too this or that. We don’t make the same widget day after day. Perhaps your lean journey will be tougher to navigate, you might have more failures before you find success, but lean culture and continuous improvement can be a part of your story. Yes change is difficult, but it’s not bad, just different. It can work when we take a firm grip on the fundamental truths of lean and practice it with intent and consistency. Everybody. Everyday. Everywhere.

With so many layers to getting “lean” it can be overwhelming. I feel it most days. The CIC ’17 proved to be a positive therapy and restorative session to the anxiety that often accompanies any lean journey. At SPC, we take it one day at a time. With every hope to embrace the best practices of lean and become a model of lean culture, we are sure to be gentle with ourselves, allow for failure, and celebrate every success. So what are you waiting for? Lean forward and get started.

 

Jim Krueger
Director of Quality and Continuous Improvement

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