How To Prevent Atrophy And Death In Your LEAN Project

Developing a LEAN culture with a LEAN Management system developed in parallel with the LEAN process system ensures that the roles, processes, standards, and procedures are documented and followed. Although we are not discussing physics, the law of entropy applies. It states "Organized systems tend to move toward disorganization". LEAN involves the adoption of new processes, work habits, and the use of new tools. Everyone must learn new habits and, as psychologists say, extinguish the old habits. It is so easy to fall back into old habits. They lurk in the back of our mind waiting for the opportunity to resurface. This propensity of old habits to re-occurs is the reason why a management system must be developed and implemented in parallel with the LEAN process system.

A LEAN management system will provide the tools and processes to maintain and support the LEAN process system. It will sustain the integrity of your system and ensure you realize the benefits of LEAN. A management system will close the loop on processes and allow employees to make continuous improvements. A LEAN production system and a LEAN management system are interrelated.

For example, a company instituted LEAN and standardized processes in a major area. They developed a flow for the work and cross trained employees and immediate supervisors so that flow could be maintained. The implementation rejected in less wait time for customers, reduction in time and costs, and an increase in quality. But then, employees in the LEAN area were transferred to new areas, management changed their focus to the latest new technology, and new employees were not cross trained. LEAN tools to document abnormalities stacked up and were not reviewed and no one acted on them. The result was a return to old habits and business as usual, which affected customer relations and profits. When management tried to reinstate LEAN, there was resistance and many felt it was a failure because it did not last, so why try again?

Actually, LEAN had worked but it was not sustained because there was not a parallel management system developed. Another contributing factor was the lack of discipline in completing, reviewing, and acting upon LEAN tools. LEAN is not a one-time fix but a journey to continuous improvement.

The tools in LEAN make sense and are easy to use. The challenge is to actually employ the discipline to complete the charts, interpret data, and make the improvements. Let's take a small scale example of what can happen when the tools are not used and the processes in not followed. In a manufacturing plant, an employee on the line had a call for the production of a number of units of a product not produced every day. The employee was considered very knowledgeable about the product and had a standard of work document. His team leader also had a standard of work document for the inspection of the process. The employee took a quick look at the steps in the standard of work and began producing the product. Unfortunately, he skipped an important step that ensured quality and eliminated customer complaints. This would have been noticed on the first unit or at least in the first hour of production if the team leader had inspected as required in her standard of work. But, she relied on the skill of the employee and turned her attention to another area of ​​responsibility. The result was the shipment of a below-standard product and customer complaints.

Had the employee and the manager followed the standard of work and both used their LEAN tools, no sub-standard product would have been shipped and one or the other may have found another opportunity for improvement as they would have a fresh look at the process.

The objective is to develop a LEAN culture that includes everyone; that means executives, managers, team leaders, and employees. LEAN includes new work habits and like the development of personal habits, you must have a license to employ the new habit.

It is the development of a culture. It is something that evolves as the employees and executives change. It is the result of experience. It results from the implementation of the two LEAN systems. It also results from a new way of approaching things. It includes respect for the brain power, capabilities, and experience of the employees. They are closest to the work and can provide valuable insights and innovative ideas.

Many people think that technology alone will ensure quality and improve production, but that is not true. Alex Warren, a former Executive Vice President of Toyota, tells how the technology alerts to defects but the employee has the power to stop the production line and fix the problem. He says it puts power into the hands of the employees and they know they count and feel both the responsibility and the power.

In many companies, executives sit in their office and either read reports or attend briefing sessions. However, going to see for yourself provides a different level of understanding. In one of the Success CDs that came with my copy of the magazine, Darren Hardy told of how he was brought in to do a turnaround for a company. One of his first recommendations was for the owner to take a walk around the building at least one or two times a week for 30 minutes and find an employee doing something right and compliment that person. He also recommended asking employees what were their challenges and what would help overcome the challenge. Darren said to ask questions so you understand what you observe and what the employee is telling you. The owner was impressed with the success of this change. Employees began to feel valued and make recommendations. Production and quality improved. Of course there were other changes as well, but this is an example of a change in habit and how cultures are developed.