Transforming Success into Failure

By on June 28, 2017
Transforming Success into Failure

Sometimes success with the tools of Lean manufacturing is too easy to achieve.

I’ve seen this happen far too often following the implementation of the 5S System:

  1. Sort, Store, and Shine happen.
  2. The areas look lean, clean, and orderly.
  3. Employees say, “Wow, doesn’t it look great!”
  4. And they say, “Let’s keep it going.”
  5. For five months following implementation workplace scans are done and they’re mounted on the 5S Scoreboards.
  6. Then, almost imperceptibly, the gains made initially with 5S go away.
  7. Clutter returns. Disorder returns. Dirt returns.

I’ve also seen this happen far too often following the application of Value Stream Mapping:

  1. A production process has been carefully “mapped.”
  2. A lot of WIP has been eliminated and the pace of all stages of the production process moved much closer to Takt Time.
  3. The production process has transitioned from “push” to “pull” production.
  4. Deliveries from suppliers have moved close to JIT.
  5. A delivery is missed.
  6. Management responds by saying, “Make sure this never happens again. Make sure we have a buffer.”
  7. Waste in the production process returns.

What causes these false starts? Experience has taught me that these are common causes.

1. The organization’s entire leadership team isn’t committed to taking an active, highly visible role in supporting Lean.

I’ve had plant managers say to me, “Just keep me briefed on how our work to implement Lean is progressing.” This attitude just won’t work. The plant manager is a key factor in the transition to Lean and her/his involvement must be visible and vigorous. In any organization, there will always be a number of individuals who don’t believe in any form of change. These professional cynics will be continually on the lookout for evidence that the company’s commitment to Lean is less than vigorous. Any sign that the plant’s top management is not totally supportive and involved in the transition to Lean will be interpreted as evidence that this attempt at change, like many before it, will also fade away. All managers have to be actively and effectively involved in the transition to Lean.

2. The organization’s leadership team doesn’t regularly observe production, interacting with employees working on the line.

Lean transformations are successful when leadership teams have ongoing positive interactions with line workers, demonstrating by their behavior that line workers are respected and that their ideas are valued. These three qualities must permeate the workplace, respect, trust, and candor. As workers experience being respected and being trusted, their willingness to be candid in their interactions with the leadership team will be markedly enhanced. Without candor, information flow will be severely restricted. And when this happens, the ability of the leadership team to make good decisions will be crippled. In Lean lingo, the leadership team must regularly “go to the Gemba.”

3. The leadership team doesn’t understand that to successfully implement Lean the focus must be on long-term gains, not short-term ROI.

How much will productivity be increased when Lean is first implemented? There may be none at all for a year or so. The focus has to be on the steady development of ever more productive standardized work processes created in partnership with line workers and undeterred by the demands of the moment no matter how potent. As soon as management allows a crisis to move it into a “just do it” mode, the effort to implement Lean will be seriously damaged to a degree that may make recovery impossible.

Henry Ford’s book, “My Life and Work,” was studied by Toyota managers as a key source for those ideas that later germinated into what has become Lean manufacturing. What are some of the key insights Toyota gained from Ford’s book? They learned that relationships between managers and line workers are reciprocal, that the manager is the partner of the worker and the worker is the partner of the manager. And they learned that partners, leaders and workers share their defeats as well as their victories, learn from both, continually moving their organization closer to perfection. Most importantly, they learned that the best source for ideas about how to improve work processes come from line workers, the people who do the work.

The skills and knowledge needed to effectively fill the role of leader in a transition to Lean manufacturing are not present in many managers and supervisors. In order to meet this need, St. Louis Community College developed a Lean Leadership program, specifically designed to develop and sharpen those skills needed to support Lean work processes. This program includes ten seminars and can be delivered on-site at times most convenient for participants. Few investments in Lean could have greater payback than this series of seminars. Hundreds of managers and supervisors across a wide variety of industries have profited from this program.

I’d appreciate having the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the ways in which our Lean Leadership program would help your managers and supervisors develop the knowledge and agility needed to drive a highly successful Lean transformation. You can reach me, George Friesen, any time at 314-303-0612. Let’s talk. I’m confident you’ll find it time very well spent.

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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