|Faster Delivery. Lower Cost. Improved Morale.
|Customers demand on-time delivery. Shareholders desire lower operating cost, and employees seek steady, satisfying work. For business leaders these may feel like competing priorities, but a growing number also know there is a system that supports all of these ideals together. That system is Lean.
In the 1930’s Toyota saw the strength of Ford’s then-revolutionary Model T assembly line, but also its weaknesses. Toyota introduced the missing elements of flow, balance, and the elimination of waste. Central to this “Toyota Production System” was a clear focus on providing value to the customer, while respecting and challenging the workforce to find new ways to improve. So successful was Toyota, that each of its competitors have followed suit, adopting their own version of TPS, or Lean Manufacturing, to remain competitive.
The effectiveness of “Lean Thinking” – as it has evolved – to improve delivery, lower cost, and increase job satisfaction is now widely recognized by major players in many other industries, including Insurance (Sun Life’s “Brighter Way” modelled after “The Toyota Way”), Hospitals (both St. Mary’s and Grand River), and governments (Lean BC, ThinkLean Saskatchewan, and the Region of Waterloo). The adoption of Lean is growing rapidly in our own region. Best Buy, Life Labs, Dare Foods, Shearer’s Snacks, CIBC, Thalmic Labs, Kraus Carpets, and Arctic Wolf are just some of the 120 jobs currently posted in KW, Cambridge and Guelph referencing Lean.
Lean practice follows 5 basic steps:
1.Define customer value
2.Develop your value stream
3. Train staff to see and become allergic to waste
4. Build a culture of continuous improvement
Leadership has an important role to play. One fundamental lean principle: “Genchi Gentbutsu” or “Go and See,” is a direction for leaders to personally see – in a mindful and unbiased way – reality. This builds trust and ensures that changes address what is truly at fault.
There are several such “soft” principles in Lean that organizations use in conjunction with process improvement to shift their performance into high gear. Transparency, responsibility, communication, metric visualization, employee development, empowerment and leverage are all part of a Lean organization, and when employed together have boosted sales, profits, and morale in countless organizations.
5. Redesign for the ideal state
Every producer or service organization needs to define its own future state, and the key performance indicators that drive their business. Lean provides a highly effective suite of tools, plus the cultural shift to help achieve them.
A final word on Lean: it does not require a substantial investment to get started. A simple workshop led by an experienced practitioner can yield immediate benefits and demonstrate the basic concepts. Leadership coaching can happen in “Gemba” (where the work happens). The addition of simple whiteboards can start the metric visualization and accountability process. Lean is often referred to as a journey – I would add that the views during the climb up the mountain are spectacular.
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