Top 10 Most Misunderstood Lean Tools (Part 3)

Lean tools can be leveraged to accelerate your company’s culture and business results in a dramatic way. However, if ineffectively applied, they can decrease hope for sustaining improvement and feed a culture of cynicism. In this 3rd of 3 installments on the Top 10 Most Misunderstood Lean Tools, we’ll dive into Gemba, Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), Leader Standard Work, and Hoshin Kanri (Policy / Strategy Deployment). This article is designed to give leaders a better understanding of their role in a Lean Organization.

#7) Gemba – It’s great to see leaders spending time on the shop floor engaging with the workforce. Leadership should certainly have a regular presence on the value stream where the work happens that the customer is paying for. But even this well-meaning activity can have destructive side effects if the intent is not clearly understood.

The Misunderstanding: Quick question: how much time, energy, and effort do people put into “cleaning up” when the big boss is coming into town? The answer to this question gives you some insight to the organization’s gemba culture. If people are “acting differently” in preparation for and during a leadership visit, then perhaps there’s a misunderstanding of what gemba looks to achieve. To make matters worse, leaders often seek to point out deficiencies in the process, which turn into projects that may or may not be connected to the strategy; but they consume precious resources – just because the boss noticed and called it out during their last visit. Ideally, the plant team should be eager to show their leaders the total truth so that they can engage leaders in a meaningful partnership to achieve superior results. The plant should never get ready, but should stay ready at all times so as to eliminate distractions and elevate the improvement culture.

Why do Gemba? The true intended benefit of Gemba is for people, especially decision makers, who are not naturally exposed to value stream processes, to gain familiarity with the real opportunities, gain deeper understanding of issues, and develop the talent to drive the right pace against their strategic imperatives. Leaders should not be asking “why something is wrong” or “did you notice that problem?”, they should be asking “what is the target condition?” for each person and “what is your plan for closing the gap?”; and even better, “how can I help?”. This drives greater ownership of results to the people doing the work and helps leaders understand how they could make an immediate impact.

#8) Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) -TPM is a canned approach to Lean that includes several tools designed to help achieve, sustain, and improve base condition. Base Condition is a process that is completely free from defects. TPM includes 8 pillars with one of the key pillars being Autonomous Maintenance (AM). In AM, operators become more autonomous from the maintenance function, performing the lesser complex routine maintenance tasks such as cleaning, inspection, lubrication, tightening, and minor repairs. Several other pillars are designed to help achieve and sustain base conditions with the Focused Improvement pillar helping to improve processes beyond base condition.

The Misunderstanding: Many companies approach TPM as a set of standards that they expect the organization to comply to. This is often taken as  more of a command and control approach that fails to develop the true capability to solve the problems that are keeping the company from making strategic progress. Without respect the individual journey of each employee, it becomes near impossible to sustain progress in this environment. As employees become frustrated and leave, the learning curve for a new employee is extremely high and TPM progress gradually trends the wrong way over time.

Why do TPM? No one disagrees that having machines that run at optimal running condition at all times is a really good thing. The question is at what cost? and is it justified by the benefit? This is a question that leaders must ponder to determine how far into the TPM journey they should go, if at all. TPM can drive higher OEE, lower lead time, higher quality, and higher productivity. If your processes are asset-heavy and these things are central to your operating strategy, then perhaps TPM is right for you. However, if your processes are labor-intensive and flexibility / agility is more important, perhaps you would choose an alternative or modified approach.

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#9) Leader Stanhttp://savingsdard Work (LSW) – LSW is a structured review process for leaders up and down the operations chain of command to support in driving process sustainment. Each level sets a frequency of how often they will perform reviews and in which areas. They might assess gaps from the correct use of key lean tools and follow-up on opportunities for improvement.

The Misunderstanding: The effective use of LSW depends greatly on the existing organizational culture. In a command and control culture, leaders will use this as an opportunity to find fault in what operators (or process owners) are doing and seek to take punitive corrective action. This approach only de-values the process owner and discourages a true continuous improvement mindset and culture.

Why do LSW? Use this tool to empower process owners to continuously improve performance in their area. Instead of looking for gaps to a standard, especially for seasoned operators, good leaders will seek to better understand the process for themselves and what they could do to help the process owner to make progress against their target condition. This could mean coaching or training but could also mean helping them influence other functions to take needed action.

#10 Hoshin Kanri (Policy / Strategy Deployment) – This is the process of developing strategies, plans, and tactics at all levels in the organization. Ideally, every employee in the company from the CEO down should be able to quickly draw a connection between their improvement work to the company’s broader strategy.

The Misunderstanding: 90% of strategies never get deployed. Most leaders don’t make the connection between the company strategy and continuous improvement. In fact, they don’t see the execution of strategy as improvement at all, they just see it as addition work that needs to get done. In worse cases, leaders see strategy deployment as a “paper exercise” that they do just to say they did it and throw it into a dark drawer until the next year’s strategy gets rolled out.

Why Do Strategy Deployment? A company’s strategy should paint a clear picture for what needs to be done to win (or keep winning) in the market. It should engage all aspects of the business and all employees. The agreed-upon work is your Continuous Improvement plan. It doesn’t help to have a CI team or program that is working on different things than your company strategy. If so, there will be an internal struggle for limited resources to be applied against the competing agendas. In fact, all departments should remain disciplined to the strategy to drive the greatest momentum and effectiveness.

Lean tools are very powerful because of their ease of use and repeatable results. Leaders should developing an understanding of when and how to most effectively apply the tools to drive superior business results. This post concludes a 3-part series on the most misunderstood lean tools. As you have probably realized by now, implementing the tool is actually the beginning of the journey and not the end. Once implemented, it takes persistence and dedication to stick with it until the desired result is achieved.

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