That All-Important First Step on the Lean Journey

By on January 27, 2016
First Step on the Lean Journey

Lean transformations involve many steps and the first step is the most important. It has to do with the criteria used in selecting a consulting group to support an organization’s Lean journey.

These criteria will, in many cases, determine whether or not the organization’s Lean transformation is sustainable. Far too many are not, resulting in wasted money, wasted time, and jaded employees. In fact, over 70% of Lean journeys are false starts, ending in failure.

For example, 5S is implemented and after six months of hard work the plant or office area look just great. They are lean, orderly, and clean. Two years later the areas in which so much time and effort had been spent transforming have reverted to what they were like before 5S was implemented. Once again they are filled with waste.

For example, Value Stream Mapping is used to optimize work processes. Kanban cards are used to support the just-in-time delivery of materials when needed by these work processes. Work processes flows much more smoothly. Much waste has been eliminated. Then gradually, one fatal step at a time, the work processes revert to what they were before Value Stream Mapping was used to transform them.

How could these false starts have been prevented? They could have been prevented had these two criteria been used in the process of selecting a consulting group to support the organization’s Lean transformation.

  1. Does the consulting group’s approach to a Lean transformation focus primarily on the tools of Lean or is their primary focus on changing the way in which all employees think about waste. If their approach focuses almost exclusively on the tools of Lean, the Lean journey will be a false start. It will fail. Sustainable Lean journeys involve a continuing, laser-like focus on changing the way employees think about waste and continually honing their ability to eliminate waste.
  2. What do the consulting group’s clients say about the quality of their work? Has their work resulted in a Lean journey that is continuing, a Lean journey in which waste is being continually eliminated from work spaces and work processes?

St. Louis Community College’s approach to Lean transformations is based on understanding that it is only when employee thinking processes are changed that Lean is sustainable. We believe that for Lean to be sustainable, all employees, at all levels of the organization, must come to accept these basic tenets of Lean manufacturing:

  • All work processes without exception are imperfect.
  • The individuals most qualified to improve work processes are those who do the work.
  • These values need to permeate the work environment. Respect. Trust. Candor. They need to be reflected in all interactions between employees.

When these beliefs are translated into action, Lean work processes such as 5S, Value Stream Mapping, Kanban, Visual Controls, Six Sigma, and others take on a new meaning. They are no longer seen as separate initiatives; rather they become fully integrated into the way the organization thinks and acts. They are no longer seen as the icing on the cake. They are the cake.

And what do our clients say about our approach to Lean transformations? Here’s a link to a short video in which individuals from Hydromat & Edge Technologies and Rug Doctor reflect on the services we provided.

If, after viewing this video, you’d like to learn more about the Lean training and consulting services that drove such dramatic results at Hydromat and Rug Doctor, just call me, George Friesen, anytime at 314-539-5376.

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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