The Role of Lean in Today’s Hypercompetitive Economy

By on July 15, 2010
The Role of Lean in Today’s Hypercompetitive Economy

Lean has become the term of the year throughout the manufacturing, healthcare, and service sectors of our economy. In fact, it would be quite difficult to find any plant manager or hospital administrator who would admit to having no interest in Lean work processes. To make such a statement would be close to professional suicide. When asked if their organization is “doing Lean,” the typical response from these managers would be, “of course,” followed by a recitation of Lean tools being used such as 5S, Value Stream Mapping, Visual Management, Six Sigma, Work Cell Redesign, Single Minute Exchange of Die, Pull Production, and others.

Why is there such a high level of enthusiasm about Lean? How is it that a discipline that is successful in fewer than 37% of the organizations that attempt to implement it, is still a number one item on the agenda of leaders throughout most sectors of our economy? One would be hard pressed to name another performance improvement process with such a high level of popularity coupled with such a relatively low level of quantified, long-term impact. How can this incongruity be explained?

One obvious reason for the popularity of Lean is that when implemented successfully Lean delivers very high impact results. For example, clients served by the Workforce Solutions Group Lean Manufacturing Business Unit have reported results such as these:

  • 49% increase in productivity
  • Space recovered with a value of over $1.2 million
  • More than 520,000 non-value-added steps eliminated per year
  • Savings of over $250,000 as result of equipment reuse rather than purchase

And there’s another reason for the popularity of Lean. As McKinsey & Company point out in their November, 2008, Quarterly, “(Lean) technical solutions are objective and straightforward; analytical solutions to operational problems abound in Lean and Six Sigma tool kits; and companies make significant investments to train experts who know how to apply them. What’s more, the tools and experts actually are invaluable in diagnosing and improving operational performance.”

So the Lean fixes do work. Unfortunately, in a large percentage of cases the gains are temporary. Far too often Lean just doesn’t stick.

But Lean can, and does, stick, delivering consistent, long-term increases in productivity, product quality, and productivity. What spells the difference between the failure of Lean and the success of Lean? It’s the ability of an organization’s managers and supervisors to effectively drive and support an organization’s transition to Lean. It takes managers and supervisors who understand the values that undergird Lean work processes. It takes managers and supervisors who understand that Lean changes the way in which management and labor interact with each other. It takes managers and supervisors who are able to take risks. It takes managers and supervisors with a renewed appreciation for the potential of line workers. When organizations don’t have managers and supervisors with these skills and knowledge, Lean fails. No exceptions.

Lean Leadership CertificateTo address this critical need, St. Louis Community College’s Workforce Solutions Group has developed a “Lean Leadership Certificate Program.”

Encompassing ten seminars, this program provides managers and supervisors with the skills and knowledge they need in order to support the successful implementation of Lean work processes. Here are some comments from participants in this program:

  • “This is very important training.”
  • “It is important for us to spread this program throughout our operations here in St. Louis and beyond.”
  • “This type of Lean training can help us become a more competitive, dynamic company with employees who are not only engaged but empowered with regards to day to day activities and decisions.”
  • “This training was very beneficial and I would recommend it for all management and interested employees. I learned valuable skills that I will be able to use throughout my career.”

This Lean Leadership Certificate Program could be the best investment your organization ever made as it works toward being a winner in the highly competitive 21st Century marketplace. Call us now and let’s schedule a time to review this program. You can reach me anytime at 314-303-0612.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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