Continuous Improvement, Waste

Lean is Fun!

Last week I was watching a video from Paul Akers, Lean Maniac, founder and president of FastCap LLC and author of 2 Second Lean. On that video, he passionately described lean as simple and fun.  That description makes me smile.

During my personal lean journey, I worked with different consultants and lean practitioners.  They all have one thing in common, regardless of their experience and knowledge, in my opinion, they complicated things too much.  I was thinking all the time that we should keep things simple.  People have different preferred ways to learn but most of us like to receive information in a simple way.  The simple the better to understand and learn.  When you understand things, you will see how useful they are and as you try and see that they work, you definitely have fun.

People don’t need to know the history behind lean, not thousands of examples of situations that are not familiar to them, not formulas or complicated programs.  All they need to know is the basics. The basics of lean are simple:  respect for people and continuous improvement.  By doing those two things we will eliminate waste, improve quality and by default improve customer satisfaction and reduce operational costs.

We show respect when we genuinely ask how we can help to make our employees’ tasks easier and work with them to eliminate the burden from their processes.  When they actively participate in the improvement process, having the chance to bring their point of view and implement their ideas, they go home feeling that they accomplish something,. By giving them the tools to apply continuous improvement on their areas we also give them the tools to have fun while they work, being creative, have some control of the process and learn things that may be used on their personal lives.

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Lean Tools, The Beginning

Be careful!

Not everything that shines is gold, and not everybody that claims to be a Lean consultant is.  One day, a group from our corporate office came to visit accompanied by a Lean Manufacturing consultant that they hire.  Their experienced consultant came to see our operations and my boss asked me to create a short presentation of our lean journey.

I think that the best presentation ever is the one our employees will do while walking the gemba, but my boss still thinks is good to have powerpoint presentations before going to see.  The day and time indicated I present the highlights of our journey.  I showed how we design our construction blocks to build our Lean Operations.  I showed the VSM we created with our door to door operations, I highlighted the kaizen bursts we identified.  Later I talked about our training, Lean Introduction, 5S, POUS, Visual Management, TPM, Kanban, and others.  Then I showed examples of how we applied these tools at different areas from receiving to packaging, including the maintenance shops, laboratory, materials warehouse, and the chemicals room.  Finally, I presented a slide with the PDCA of all the kaizen we “finished” or have in progress.

Our corporate visitors were impressed by all the progress showed, especially in terms of dollars and cents but the lean expert was utterly quiet.  He did not say too much at the end of the meeting either.  At the end of the day, my boss told me that after I left the consultant was saying that he doesn’t believe in VSM and much less on TPM, SMED, 5S training or any kind of visual management.  The only thing he recommended to continue working with was kanbans through the whole plant, this will create flow; he said.

I don’t have a lot of experience with Lean, but my humble experience has been enough to know that working with the basic tools of lean helps to prepare the plant for the stabilization, standardization and quick change-over we need to create the flow needed for supply to our customers what they need when they need at the expected quality or better.

Be careful, there are a lot of people out there trying to grab a bunch of money from you saying that they are lean experts.  They come, see, talk, talk and talk about what you should do without saying how to do it and left with their pockets full of money leaving you worse than before.

The Beginning

Doing more with less?

When I ask what is lean manufacturing, the most common definition I received is “doing more with less”. That one is also, my less favorite. I don’t like it because it is too easy to link that phrase with firing people. Unfortunately, there are too many people who launch lean with the only objective of personnel reduction.

Lean manufacturing means creating more value for customers with fewer resources while we deliver what the customer wants, with the quality expected and when they need it.  Value is whatever the customers are willing to pay for.  Fewer resources mean less time, less human effort, less machinery, fewer materials, less space.  By no means lean pretend to create value with fewer people, the idea is to relocate people on those areas where we need them to create value.

People committed to lean manufacturing, understand that respect for the people is one of the fundamentals of the program.  It is important to say early in the game, that we are not looking to fire people, but please don’t say it if you don’t mean it.  If what that is what you really want to do, please do not use lean manufacturing for that purpose.

People will not commit to the whole continuous improvement process if they feel that their employment is at risk.  They should not have any concerns about job security if they do then will not focus on any activity towards standardization or continuous improvement.

Five S

Did you meet the 5S?

A 5S Program is a group of principles and activities that seek cleaner, organized, free of clog and safety hazard work areas.  The five steps of housekeeping transform the work areas into easy to use workspaces. They contain visual instructions that promote organization. Those instructions make it easy to recognize when standards are not followed.  The program itself is one of the foundations of Lean Manufacturing.

5S ProcessThe following five steps promote standardization and facilitate continuous improvement:

  1. Sort –  The first step is about sorting all materials and tools between necessary and non-necessary to complete the task or work of that area.
  2. Set in Order – After we decided what we need on the area, on the second step a location and quantity are assigned for each one.  We need to have a place for everything and everything should be returned to its place after being used.
  3. Shine – The third step looks for a thorough cleaning and inspection.  The inspection is the more important part, the objective is to identify any possible source for the dirt and fix it.  Leaks, loose bolts, broken belts, previous quick fixes, and others are identified and fixed while cleaning.
  4. Standardize – During the fourth step, managers and supervisors need to create rules, procedures, and standards to ensure we keep doing the first three steps constantly.  Within those checklists and procedures, we need to establish what is needed, how it is done, who is responsible and how often.  Rules to replenish materials, the maximum amount of work in process (WIP) is also determined on this step.
  5. Sustain – The last S is the most difficult one because involves discipline.  Managers and supervisors need to be persistent.  Employee participation is vital, without their ideas, help, and participation through every step of the way; the success of this program won’t be possible.

5S Events are one of my favorite Lean events because the steps are easy to follow and the program can be used anywhere, including offices, laboratories, storage rooms, and home.  This program is clearly focused on the employees and their working conditions and as soon as they start working with it, they understand that.