Where should I startwith Lean? Some say starting with 5S is a must. Others favor eliminatingthe seven deadly wastes. Others still suggest value stream mapping. Agreat question is “What problem are your trying to solve?”
The need for atransition to lean thinking and acting is often related to standards not beingmet and performance expectations not being realized. The need to adhereto standards, in my view, is often a good place to start.
A manufacturingcompany I know very well struggled for years with one particular productiondepartment. The company consistently delivered high quality products tothe customer. At the same time the atmosphere within this department wasoften difficult to endure. Low morale, scrap, rework, secondaryinspection, and overtime were common problems. The departmentsupervisor pursued another opportunity outside the organization creating anopportunity for new leadership. A supervisor from a smaller departmentwas moved into the vacated position in the larger, troubled department.
Her approach with theworkforce was direct. She was unwavering in her adherence to standardsand had very high expectations of her team members. She wasn’t one tolecture the team on the rules. Instead, she demonstrated her requirementsof the team without fail.
Every production runincluded several forms to be hand-written by the operators. These formswere submitted to the supervisor at the end of the run. The supervisorrejected every form containing even the slightest error. For example,company SOP stated every box on a form was to be populated, even if there wasno information to record there. A simple “N/A” or strikethrough would besufficient. Forms were regularly submitted with empty boxes. Thesupervisor simply explained the work was below standards, redlined thedocument, and returned it to the operator to rewrite before leaving for theday.
The operators quicklylearned to pay attention to detail and complete their work according tostandards. With no other changes to the day-to-day activities thanmaintaining the standards that were already in place, the performance of thedepartment improved dramatically.
Once the standardswere being met, many problems started to go away. The first noticeabledifference was that morale had improved. Scrap and rework started toimprove as well. While some thought the team wouldn’t respond well to thesupervisor’s absolute intolerance of not following the rules, the result wasthat people liked it. They were able to trust the right things were beingdone the right way.
Once the preexistingstandards were being met, continuous improvement could begin.
Applying lean toolsto a dysfunctional organization is a wasted effort. As Ohno said, “Wherethere are no standards there can be no kaizen.”
When we get excited about the idea of beginning a lean journey it’s easy to want to start usinglean tools right away. The problem with that is that “To a man with ahammer, everything looks like a nail.” We attempt to improve where thereis no standard. Sometimes the best thing to do is to put the tools in thetoolbox and spend as much time and effort as necessary to prepare the worksite.