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Home > About Us > News and Articles > The Top Ten Secrets of Lean Success: Part 2


By David Dixon (as printed in Fabricating and Metalworking)

In our years of assisting and watching companies try to implement lean, many ask us, "What are the pitfalls or barriers to success?" and, of course, "How can we avoid them?"

Last month (archived at www.fandmmag.com [http://www.fandmmag.com]) we began to answer that question with the first six of our Top Ten list describing elements to successful lean implementation for a company's senior management. This month, we continue through No. 10 and end with some parting comments about what can make a lean implementation a success.

No. 7. Manage Resources Flawlessly.

Poor planning drives waste. World-class companies master a set of tools that enable them to achieve predictable results through careful planning and follow-up. It begins with anticipating demand (sales forecasting). Demand numbers must be translated into takt times or run rates by value stream. Schedules must be developed to honor due dates and load each value stream to its takt time (no more, no less). Delivery promises will then be made based upon capacity available to promise, which is critical to achieving on-time delivery performance.

The enterprise-resource-planning (ERP) system must be adapted to support our lean planning, scheduling and execution. (ERP systems requirements can never be the sole driver of how we run the business.)

And finally, you will want to develop cell-level metrics, daily production meetings and monthly management reviews that are perfectly capable of monitoring performance to daily schedules and aggregate sales, production and inventory plans.
Remember: Feedback is a vital part of the process.

No. 8. Develop World-Class Front-Line Leaders.

The implementation of lean must be managed from the top down. If we fail to develop in our leaders a true understanding and passion for lean, success will elude us. We need supervisors and lead people who know more about lean than we do. They have to be able to teach lean "over the lunch table"—spontaneously and with great enthusiasm. They should be our finest ambassadors for lean.

We also need to enhance the ability of our front-line leaders to lead. Unfortunately, many of them are promoted mostly because of their technical skill and knowledge of products and processes. Invest in helping them become better planners, coaches, team facilitators and coordinators. Create a "future state" vision of the grass-roots leaders that you really want, check it against the profile of the supervisors and lead people that you have now (the "current state"), and set about relentlessly to close the gap.

No. 9. Bring Your Suppliers to the lean Party.

Early in the journey, you will be focused on the internal segments of your value streams, and "leaning them out" will be quite enough to cover everyone up with high leverage work for awhile. But eventually you will find that to make any more progress, you will need to have some key suppliers who can: 1) deliver ever-decreasing lot sizes of raw material and purchased parts, 2) meet your exacting quality requirements, 3) participate in "dock-to-line" programs and other lean solutions and 4) help you keep your costs low by maintaining or lowering their prices.

You cannot achieve what is needed by "managing" the supply chain. You will need to develop your suppliers, first by sharing your lean knowledge and experience with them and then working out programs that are win-win waste-reduction efforts. Building effective relationships will probably require a reduction in the number of suppliers, as it is difficult to devote enough high-quality time and effort to a large supplier base.

As in all effective (and lasting) human relationships, respect and empathy will be the watchwords. The traditional business of simply beating up the supplier for the lowest possible price must change.

"Partnership" is the operative word.

No. 10. Never Stop Improving.

Winston Churchill was asked to speak to a group of students at the boarding school where he was educated as a boy. His seven-word speech is thought by some to be among the best he ever delivered: "Never, never, never, never, never, never quit." And then he sat down.

We can’t improve on his admonition as it relates to your lean-implementation effort. Jim Womack coined the term lean to capture the spirit of removing waste (fat?) from a value stream, and it is a great descriptor. But no single word can adequately sum up the notion of creating a culture where people seek improvement just because it is the right thing to do and because they have been taught how to do it. Work on developing this culture.

Keep your people engaged. Lean tools will allow them to rationalize the process and drive out the major forms of waste. Now teach them how to use the Six Sigma tools and advanced lean techniques to reduce variation and achieve even greater levels of quality and productivity. Re-constitute your improvement plans often. Run your events. Recognize and reward success. There really are no limits to how good you can be.

There you have it—our Top Ten. And this brings us to some parting comments. If you are the leader of an aspiring world-class enterprise, the burden of success lies squarely on your shoulders. You will need many lean champions, but you will need to be the lean champion. Be patient with the process. When it bogs down, as it sometimes does, just go back to the basics outlined above and jump-start it again.

Finally, we suggest that you seek to validate your implementation approach and your accomplishments from time to time. Benchmarking is important. Seminars and conferences will add to your knowledge base and confirm the validity of your direction. In addition, there are some powerful lean maturity models that provide a quantitative assessment of how you are doing. Some of them culminate in a certification that is a fitting reward for an organization that has achieved a high level of performance, as measured against a tough, universal standard.

Good luck, and enjoy the ride.

David Dixon, president of Ogden, Utah-based Technical Change Associates, is a registered professional engineer with more than 35 years of experience in lean manufacturing, Six Sigma and other improvement initiatives.