How to Do a Stress Free Lean Implementation

Manuficient - Top Performers

Lean is said to be the “Machine that Changed the World,” which a fantastic book written by Jim Womack, Dan Jones and Daniel Roos. According to Wikipedia, “Lean manufacturing or lean production, often simply “lean“, is a systematic method for the elimination of waste (“Muda“) within a manufacturing system.” We are now learning that Lean has applicability across far more industries than just manufacturing such as healthcare, finance, education, and many others. However, implementing lean has been a major challenge for business leaders across all sectors, including manufacturing. A study released by McKinsey stated that “70% of Continuous Improvement initiatives fail”. This is a striking statistic considering how popular Lean and other Continuous Improvement initiatives are.

If you go into any of those factories where Lean has failed (and even some where it has succeeded), you’ll quickly find that it generally leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths. Be it because some companies have gutted workforces and administrative jobs under the guise of Lean or that people had to give up things that they held sacred in the name of cutting waste…many people harbor a disdain for Lean. How did an initiative designed to improve product and process quality turn into such a reviled and despised creature?

In conducting and studying many examples of Lean implementations I’ve determined that three key ingredients are needed for success. Those ingredients are:

  1. Technical Expertise. Lean isn’t that hard to learn but somebody needs to know what they’re doing in the beginning at least. This could be an inside or outside person or group. Eventually, everyone needs a strong lean competency and it needs to become a requirement for staying with the company or getting promoted
  2. Commitment. Leaders need to visibly show their commitment and make decision consistent with a Lean culture.
  3. Motivation. If the people at the top or bottom don’t want to do it – it won’t happen. A Lean implementation requires substantial changes in behaviors, the slaughter of sacred cows, and debilitating power struggles. It’s not easy for anybody.

In all reality, the last item trumps the previous two. Let’s face it, people will eventually do what they’re motivated to do as long as management gets the heck out of the way. Do you really need an engineering degree to do 5S or make a few changes to reduce waste and inefficiency? The answer is no. So …the easy way to implement Lean is by pairing the implementation with things people are motivated to do such as:

  • Look good in front of their bosses and peers
  • Get recognized for a job well done
  • Compete and win
  • Have input on the way things are done
  • Prove themselves by getting results
  • Be judged fairly
  • Help others
  • Be a valued contributor to the business
  • Remain gainfully employed
  • …the list goes on and on.

So, to implement Lean, you need to motivate people to eliminate waste and be more efficienct; then give them the tools and support to do what they will be super-motivated to do. To do this, follow these steps:

Step 1Implement OEE. This will tell you and everyone else exactly how much efficiency loss you have, what types of losses you have, and where the biggest opportunities for improvement exist, etc. OEE will serve as your scoreboard for how good everybody actually and undoubtably is. It also puts everyone on the same playing field in terms of measuring productivity. [Week 1 – 8 but continue tracking perpetually]

Step 2Start highlighting success stories for people doing things better. Share Personal Records, Record Breaking Weeks for the team, Best-Practices, Top Performers for the Day or Week, and so on. This will create a culture that feels like winning…and send a message that winning means getting better, which means…increasing efficiencies. All of a sudden, getting better is starting to feel “good” and perhaps even “fun and exciting”. [Week 6 – 15 but continue into perpetuity]

Step 3Provide a continuous stream of tools and techniques for getting better. Teach people root cause analysis, value stream mapping, SMED, kaizen events and anything else they are clamoring to know by this point in the process. You should also consider taking engineers, managers, and key personnel to other factories who have a really good Lean program so they can benchmark ideas. These factories love to show off the great work they’ve done to implement what a vast majority of companies struggle with. [Week 10 on]

That’s it. Pretty easy right? Well there are always varying levels of depth and complexity of tools that can be applied but you can cross those bridges when you get to them. It’s important to follow these three steps in sequence and allow time for each step to take hold in the organization. Most companies try to implement lean by doing step 3 and then step 1 or they just start of with a massive cutting of headcount. Implementing OEE is not as easy as this article makes it sound and neither are the other 2 steps. Fortunately there’s a tool that virtually automates the first 2 (and most difficult) steps called the Factory Operating System (fOS) at This is the best tool out there for implementing Lean or any other Continuous Improvement initiative. In this system, calculating and tracking OEE requires less than a minute per production run to input data and it spits out OEE by line, shift, person, team, product, timeframe, or any other way you want to slice it. It also highlights top performers, record breaking weeks, personal records, and other success stories across your operations chain of command. It’s super-powerful and it’s free, which makes it really great!

Implementing Lean can be a great step toward reducing operating costs, increasing capacity, reducing lead time, improving product quality among many other wonderful things. Don’t make the mistakes most companies make by failing to motivate your people before slamming them with tools, jargon, and complex ideas that will just scare them away. Let the motivation come first, then they will be a) creating their own tools and b) asking you for more tools and techniques to get their systems to operate more efficiently. This way you create a demand for Lean instead of pushing it on people and creating a painful experience for everyone that probably won’t even sustain results. A manufacturing efficiency expert such as those at Manuficient can help you to implement Lean in a non-abrasive way that systematically encourages your people to do better everyday.

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Copyright © Calvin L Williams blog at [2015]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Calvin L Williams with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

5 Things You Should Do Immediately to Improve Plant Performance

Declining Performance Chart

Well it turns out, there’s quite a bit of science to the art of plant management. There are hard ways to drive performance and there are easy ways. I’m not going to dig into the hard ways because I’m sure we all know what those are. I will however touch on how the great ones do it. In every factory, there is an abundance of the 8th and often forgotten waste, which is non-utilized talent and ideas. In this post I expose how to harness this abundant resource to drive plant performance. Below are five things you could do within the next month to significantly improve plant performance:

1) Make sure your performance KPI’s are aligned with your plant’s priorities. Wrether it be to reduce costs, increase throughput, increase overall customer service levels, or anything else. Create a consensus on what are the ranked priorities of the plant for the next year, 5 years, and longer term. Then develop a set of KPI’s that immediately reflect your factory’s level of execution around those priorities. KPI’s should be something that can be tracked and managed on at least a daily basis but the more real-time, the better. This increases the actionability of the metrics being tracked. Its a lot more difficult to engage people in a metric that is only updated once a month or less frequently. In manufacturing especially, its wishful thinking to expect people to have an attention span longer than one day.

2) Set daily, weekly, and monthly performance targets for the KPI’s mentioned in step 1. Tie plant bonuses, performance reviews, and other systems that are in place to motivate people to the delivery of performance targets for those KPI’s. For example, a target could be to increase OEE% by 2% each month for an entire year. This would be even more powerful if you were tracking OEE by individual line area so you can easily see what areas need more TLC.

3) Publish the KPI’s in a highly visible location and update as frequently as possible. With today’s performance tracking technology, you can sometimes use monitors that display performance by area in real time. It works great when you can aggregate and summarize performance by area and publish it in an area that’s both highly visible and great for meetings. This sets you up for performance review meetings and makes the areas with greatest opportunities for continuous improvement more evident.

4) Establish escalation protocols for issues. There are 2 types of escalation processes needed. The first is for issues that pose an imminent threat to service levels. Make it clear how long a line should be down before maintenance, supervisors, and managers should be notified and need to get involved. There should be a set of standard actions for the support personnel to follow if they are called upon for help.  Ideally the line operator would initiate the root cause analysis process before calling for help. The help should be equipped with the appropriate training to continue and coach the line operator on the next steps in the RCA process. This should continue up the chain until the issue is fully resolved.

The second type of escalation process is for chronic issues that may hurt efficiency but are often worked around to hit daily targets. However the same rules generally apply. Set standards for how long an issue should persist before it needs to be escalated. Make sure to give your operators enough time to exercise their problem-solving skills before escalating. Also ensure that each level of escalation has a higher capability for problem-solving.

5) Train, train, train, and then execute, execute, execute. Make sure everyone in the organization knows their role and are well prepared to solve the problems that are typical for their area of work. As a leader, all you need to do is make sure everyone is following the protocols and engineer the protocols as needed to get the results you want. The effectiveness of your training and execution will be apparent in the trending of your KPIs, which at this point should mirror your priorities. All you need to do at that point is sit back and watch all your production waste melt away. Then celebrate, celebrate, celebrate.

Wash, rinse, and repeat.

Just by publicizing performance and establishing daily management protocols, you will see a significant jump in performance. This is called the Hawthorne effect. Celebrate early success but continue to push for stronger performance over time. From here, you will see a grassroots effort to take initiative on opportunities for further improvement. This usually takes a few months but this is exactly where you want to be.

Good luck in your performance improvement efforts. Feel free to reach out to me if you need assistance with developing a continuous improvement roadmap, training, help with a chronic performance issue, or just need someone to bounce ideas off of.

© Calvin L Williams blog at [2015]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Calvin L Williams with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Why American Companies Struggle with Lean Implementation


Its no secret that American companies have had their share of fits and stalls with the implementation of Lean Manufacturing. Why is it that some companies are able to generate so much steam and momentum with their Lean efforts while some can’t even create the slightest inertia? As a Manufacturing Efficiency expert, I’ve had the privilege to lead several Lean implementations myself and support clients who were in desperate need of a Lean initiative. Here are some of my key observations for why American companies struggle to implement Lean:

1) Lack of true Lean expertise – Many companies simply staff lean roles in the factories and leave them to sink or swim. They either select people who already work at the facilities who have generally done a good job or they bring in someone from the outside who seems to have a grasp on the concept on Continuous Improvement. Granted just about anyone can learn the basics of Lean, it takes an experienced hand to navigate the politics and shape an palatable strategy for a true and sustainable implementation. These people not only need to have a strong grasp (and good experience) with executing lean tactics, they also need to have a strong competency for change management and political savvy.

2) Lack of leadership buy-in and support – At the lowest level, the factory manager needs to have a strong grasp of Lean and be fully bought in to leading an implementation. It needs to be a prerequisite for the job of managing the factory. At the highest level, Lean competency would be a strong consideration for any job or promotion within the supply chain division of the company (especially manufacturing). The VP of Operations would be a former implementor of the Lean initiatives. The Directors would be Black Belts (or at least Green Belts) with experience leading significant OEE improvements. The factory manager’s job performance would be heavily dependant on hitting milestones against Lean performance metrics. At that point, you’ve got a winning recipe for success.

3) Lean is counter-intuitive for American culture – Lean was developed and honed within the Japanese culture. Japan has a very strong culture for discipline, order, and process optimization. In contrast, America has a strong culture of instant gratification and individualism. Imagine the sumo wrestler or the samurai in Japan. Their characteristics are discipline, focus, endurance, loyalty, and control. This is reflective of the Japanese (and Lean) culture. Then imagine the cowboy or rock star in America. Their characteristics are rapid gratification, individualism, and heroism. These are reflective of American values as well. Lean is a discipline of manufacturing that is founded on the systematic elimination of waste. It is tailored to Japanese culture. In America, when something goes wrong (ie machine breaks down or materials don’t arrive), it is natural to point the finger at the person standing there holding the bag. We assume that someone messed up and we quickly move to take disciplinary action. Rarely do we take a step back and ask what conditions exist for this type of issue to occur and how can the system be designed to eliminate the possibility of this type of error. Fixing the system takes time, trial, and error. Its just easier to discipline or replace someone when there seems to be a problem. Also, since many corporate managers only stay in a critical leadership role for a short amount of time (often less than 4 years), their promotion is dependant on immediate and dramatic results. A thorough and sustainable Lean implementation takes at least 5 years – and that’s with skilled implementers and competent / dedicated leaders at the helm.

Most companies think of Lean as a manufacturing process improvement initiative. They see the tactics such as 5S, Kaizen Events, Root Cause Analysis, and Andon Systems. What they don’t see is that Lean also requires an organizational adjustment. This includes changing the rules of the game and what is required to get ahead in the company. The desire to get ahead is the driving engine for the American economy. No single American company will change that. Therefore, as in sumo wrestling, American companies need to leverage the desire to get ahead – to drive manufacturing efficiency. Lean has a fantastic set of principles and tools for driving manufacturing efficiency. For starters, manufacturers should align their employee performance management systems with Lean implementation requirements. The people capturing the greatest gains in savings, efficiencies, and productivity improvements need to be regarded as the rock stars. Even those unsuccessfully attempting to drive positive change should be recognized and appreciated for their efforts. For a company that is serious about a Lean implementation, there should be a direct connection between promotions and compensation to impact on factory efficiency improvement for all factory employees.

© Calvin L Williams blog at [2015]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Calvin L Williams with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Difference Between Lean and Agile Manufacturing

Have you ever wondered what is the difference between Lean and Agile Manufacturing? Well you’re not alone. I’ve been in rooms full of manufacturing consultants who don’t have a complete grasp of these two manufacturing principles, their applications, and their differences.

One simple way to explain the difference is by thinking of the two in terms of direction and magnitude. If its a question of direction, its in the Agile arena. If its a question of magnitude, its Lean. I’ll use a golf analogy to simplify this concept even further. I’m no golf expert but I do understand two things, you need to hit the ball in the right direction and the right distance. Business, especially manufacturing, is no different. The Lean question in golf would be: “What is the least amount of effort needed to hit the ball 300 yards?”. The Agile question in golf would be: 1) “What is the right direction to hit the ball?” and 2) “What is the least amount of effort required to adjust my direction?”

In the manufacturing environment, the two work hand and hand. You first decide what to make, then you decide how to make it better and more efficiently. In an environment where the “What to make?” question is asked more frequently, Agile is the predominant approach. Likewise, if the question is more frequently “How do we make it better/faster/less expensive?”, then you’re in the Lean wheelhouse. If you’ve decided what to make over breakfast and need to figure out how to cut operating cost by 50% by lunchtime, then you’ve ventured into the Leagile territory.

Simply put, the easier it is for your factory or supply chain to change directions, the more Agile it is. The less resources required to produce a unit at quality, the more Lean it is.

Examples of Lean questions include:

What’s the lowest possible cost to produce per unit?

How much labor is required to produce per unit?

How can we reduce operating costs by 15%?

How can we improve service levels by 10%?

Examples of Agile questions include:

Are our factories capable of producing Product XYZ?

What would it cost to re-tool and get to full rate on Product XYZ?

What would it cost to add Feature or Component B to existing Product 123? How long would it take to get this new SKU to full rate production?

How quickly can we get to market with Product XYZ?

What products can we introduce to increase annual revenues by 15%? What are the associated commercialization costs?

If you’re a manufacturer that is happy with sales volumes and just need to reduce operating costs or increase productivity, then there are steps you can take to become more Lean, which is the systematic reduction of waste.

On the other hand, if you’re a manufacturer that would like to increase or retain sales volumes by being more responsive and flexible, then there are steps you can take to become more Agile, which is the ability to quickly and easily change direction or speed.

© Calvin L Williams blog at [2015]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Calvin L Williams with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.