Implement Lean Principles on Your Production Floor
Studying the principles of lean manufacturing in classes and workshops, and through projects creating lean practices cannot, alone, prepare you for success. In the many years I have been involved with lean practices—on the ground, in manufacturing plants—there are three factors that make all the difference when implementing lean strategies.
Without them, I have found that all the best laid plans can be a waste of time, money, goodwill, and resources if you don’t have these three variables working in your favor:
- Good teams
I’ve been lucky enough to have a good balance of all three, and the more exposure I get in implementing lean principles and practices within companies, the more experience I am happy to amass and share. One thing I have experienced first-hand it that lean principles can be adopted at any stage of an operation or a company’s “maturity” level in terms of long-held practices and processes. It’s never too early … or too late … to get lean.
Mindset: “It’s Not Just about Lean”
Whenever I dive into a lean manufacturing project, I always do so with the mindset that it’s not just about lean—it’s primarily about making the work life better for my customers, colleagues, and me. Think about that—when the goal revolves around improvement to make every day at work easier, smoother, and more efficient—there are only winners in that equation.
Creating a new operation from scratch or re-designing a facility or processes can feel daunting. And for good reason. It does take vision and persistence … and buy-in from people who are often comfortable doing things the way “it has always been done.” If you are leading the efforts, there are some valuable perspectives you can approach this from, so you—and the people you engage along the way—have a mindset that is open and flexible to the changes at hand. Here are some considerations to keep in mind.
Lean is simple. Topping the list is this reigning principle: lean is all about keeping it simple. If it isn't simple, it isn't lean.
There is no one way to do it. The addendum to that is: there is no bad way of doing it. To take a page from Nike—just do it. Acting on it will, at the very least, get it to a point that is decent and workable.
Don't be afraid to fail. Don’t try for perfection at the beginning. Apply forward motion and you will make progress. Don’t expect—or attempt—big and drastic changes in a short period of time.
Start small. Start with planting benefits and results people can see and feel right away. Plant the seed, get interest, collect brainpower from ally employees.
Take a bite of the cultural pie. Your biggest assets are the collective observations—big and small—that your colleagues offer. From the production floor to C-Suite, you are to include everyone. High-level goal setting is great, but if the everyday elements aren’t in place, you’ll never get those goals met. Find out what has already been done, tried, failed, succeeded—all of it.
Create leaders. A natural progression of nurturing talent is that you create leaders. This provides the ultimate sustainability quotient to ensure your lean program continues to flourish. Create teams that come up with and collaborate on ideas, implement them, and help scale them, where applicable. An important element of these teams is to alternate leadership among the team members. This sets people up to learn and advance leadership skills, and also experience what it is like to be a “follower.”
Identify the critical. I may be stating the obvious here, but with any new initiative, you need to know what is critical to any of the processes. Focus on these areas first. And remember the mindset tips above: if any of the new processes or fixes don’t work, try again. Notice that you and your colleagues are now thinking differently about the situation and possibilities.
What We've Done (so far) at Fourstar Connections
Here are a few of the continuous improvements for lean manufacturing that we made on our production floor.
Freed up space on employees’ workstations.
The work spaces on the production floor are a 5x3 foot tables. Realistically, the actual working space consisted of approximately an 18-inch square. Our initial assessment gauged the actual work space to consist of 20% of the total table. Employees now have 80-85% of the available workspace. This has a sizeable impact on productivity and quality. This was one of our initial improvements, which also set a powerful precedent in demonstrating that simple things work!
We uncluttered, cleaned, and disposed of “stuff” that had been lingering around and hadn't been used for a long time. This included material, equipment, old customer material, legacy piping, etc. We executed a high-level declutter so we could see what we were working with—and then we looked closer to see what we could continue to improve upon.
Evaluated the lay of the land.
We explored better ways to work, which included alternative layouts for the production floor and general work environment. We gathered information from employees to get their suggestions, recommendations, perceptions, current limitations, future wishes.
Improved the environment aesthetics.
Aesthetics have a significant impact on employees and customers regarding their perception of your company. Our first improvement initiative was to replace the floors. A fortunate bi-product of this is that we needed items (tables, shelving, machinery) to be easily movable, so for mobility, we put everything on wheels. While this helped us with the flooring efforts, it also became the catalyst to create modular work stations.
Taking stock in our stock room revealed some interesting finds. When we cleaned house, we purged some old stock from the selves. We also discovered how much air we were storing. Yes, air. The shelving was so big and deep that we were storing 50% or more air! When we saw that we generally were not filling the bins completely, we switched to smaller bins. The big win: now 40% more of floor space that was housing air (that doesn’t pay the bills) can be allotted for something else that will pay the rent! And this space, too, is brighter, lighter, and functionally, much more efficient.
Simplified the subtle.
We did a visible factory check by asking these questions:
- What do you need?
- Where it is?
- How do you get someplace just by looking around?
- Are there clear visuals to help me get there?
Lean Is Simple
Lean may be simple when broken down into completing one element at a time, but depending on the task ahead of you, it can also be involved. To learn lots more about the lean mindset, principles, tips on hiring consultants, and more practical details about what we did here at Fourstar, download this eBook, “How to Start Lean Manufacturing Improvements in Your Factory.”