Selecting a Lean Consulting Partner

By on May 12, 2015
Selecting a Lean Consulting Partner

Who should we engage to support our Lean transformation? It’s a tough question to answer. And it’s a critical question, the answer to which will have a major, long-term impact on your productivity and profitability.

I’d suggest there are three critical factors that should guide your decision-making on the selection of a Lean consulting group. They are:

  1. What’s the consulting group’s perspective on Lean? Do they view Lean as primarily a group of tools—tools such as 5S, Value-Stream Mapping, Visual Management, Six Sigma, Kanban, SMED, and others—or do they understand that Lean is primarily a process of changing the way all employees think about waste?
    Here’s our perspective on Lean: We believe Lean is simple, that it’s about the elimination of all forms of waste. We also believe that Lean is difficult to implement because it’s about changing the way employees think. In our training we make numerous references to the two key architects of Lean, Henry Ford and Taiichi Ohno, the prime creator of the Toyota Production System and a student of Ford. For example, Ford’s observation that “quality means doing the right think when no one is looking” is discussed in our training as is Taiichi Ohno’s “whether it be the federal government, top management, or a plant manager, the person who establishes the standard should be someone who works in production.”
  2. How does the consulting group think Lean should be launched? Do they believe that the best way to launch Lean is to conduct a series of “Kaizen events,” led by one of their consultants, or do they understand that to be sustainable a Lean transformation must be driven by basic changes in the way employees think about themselves, their work, and their employer.
    Here’s how we believe a Lean transformation should be launched: The various Lean tools that are used to eliminate waste—5S, Value-Stream Mapping, Kanban, SMED, and others—will only be sustainable if they are implemented by employees who “think waste elimination.” Given this, we have developed an eleven session series called “Kaizen Thinking,” focused on ensuring that all employees understand that Lean is simple, that Lean is about the elimination of waste, and that waste can only be eliminated when all employees understand how to spot it. We also recommend that an elegantly simple tool called “The Idea Board” be launched so the wastes spotted by employees during the Kaizen Thinking sessions can be captured and acted upon. Finally, because “Kaizen Thinking” will only become habitual if it is continually reinforced, many of our clients have used our six-session “Toyota KATA” series to strengthen the ability of their supervisors and managers to engage employees in precisely focused examinations of ways to improve work processes. Finally, we believe that after continuous improvement thinking has started to become the way employees think, the tools of Lean—5S, Value-Stream Mapping, Kanban, SMED, and others—can be launched in a way that is sustainable.
  3. What’s the consulting group’s track record in supporting Lean transformations?
    We believe the two best gauges of the effectiveness of any consulting group’s work are:
    First: Has the consulting group maintained multi-year relationships with the organizations they serve? We have.
    Second: What do the organizations served by the consulting group say about the quality of their services? Here’s what a sampling of our clients say.

“Our multi-year relationship with St. Louis Community College has been instrumental in driving a transformational culture of operational excellence at our St. Louis sites. Employees are trained in and believe in the concepts of Lean manufacturing and 5S and our customers recognize the resulting improvements in our facilities and processes. We appreciate the support from the college and look forward to many more years of this partnership,” stated Kelly Foster, Director of Operations for Sigma Aldrich.

“We have received accolades from a number of our customers, many of whom have traveled and visited numerous plants around North America and from one of Sonoco’s executive Vice Presidents, Howard Coker whose father was one of the founding members of Sonoco. Howard told me that this was the best looking Sonoco plant that he had ever visited which is quite a compliment for our plant. I greatly appreciate the training and guidance that St. Louis Community College has been providing to our team and our plant will reap the benefits for years to come,” said Frank DiSensi, Plant Manager, Sonoco Plastics, Hazelwood.

“Our company has always been a very orderly, a very well organized and well-run company, but we are always reaching to get to the next level. When we decided to get into 5S, we interviewed three or four different consultants and companies and St. Louis Community College appeared to have the best program. What the program has done which I think is important is that it has changed people’s thinking about what they do, the activities they partake in, and they’re thinking more in terms of how do I do it better, how do I do it more efficiently” observed Kevin Meehan, Chief Operating Officer, Hydromat & Edge Technologies.

“We’re really happy with our decision to go with St. Louis Community College to consult with us on Lean. The level of involvement and feedback we’ve received has been great…St. Louis Community College has really made Lean work for us. The Rug Doctor workforce is more engaged and productive,” stated Schubert Pereira, Vice President of Manufacturing and Research and Development at Rug Doctor. “Lean works because it strongly encourages all employees to think about ways to make the work they do more productive. And it’s certainly done that in our plant. Our team members are continually thinking about ways to improve their workspaces and their ideas are making our plant more competitive.”

Kathy Abbett, President of Nova Marketing Services said, “I highly recommend Toyota KATA training to any organization with a desire to create a culture of continuous improvement and innovation through employee engagement. The Toyota KATA training program has provided our management team with the knowledge and tools to successfully engage our employees in helping us continually evaluate and improve our processes so we can provide best in class service to our customers. These training classes are a great way to create teamwork and energize a group of individuals toward a common goal. Our trainer was extremely knowledgeable and encouraged interaction and participation throughout the program. Kudos to St. Louis Community College for sharing Toyota KATA in such an interesting and creative way.”

There’s no magic involved in driving the results described by these five clients. What it took was a focused, deliberate implementation process, hard work, and the solid support of the organization’s leadership team. Even though what’s happened isn’t magic, the results may make it look that way.

I’d very much appreciate having the opportunity to discuss ways of harnessing the full power of Lean thinking and work processes in your organization. You can reach me anytime at 314-303-0612. Let’s talk.

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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