Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What LEAN Could and SHOULD be Like

We have all heard the horror stories about failed "lean journeys". There are scary statistics that tell the story of how hard it is to sustain a culture of continuous improvement. It doesn't need to be that hard.

Remember how it all started. A group of people in a tool room in post-WWII Japan figuring out how to build more trucks. A lot more trucks. With no money to add more people to do it. No money to buy new machines. The reason these people were very successful is because they were led by a great coach, Taiichi Ohno (above), they had a desperate sense of purpose (survival), and they made sure to use EVERY brain to do a never ending series of experiments on their plant floor.This Toyota Production System, as it was later called, did the trick-increased CAPACITY (doing more with the same) and CASH FLOW (more businesses succumb to poor cash flow than poor sales).

It took the rest of the world quite a while to begin to understand what the heck these people were doing. Operational excellence as a strategic weapon? Sounds too simple to be true, doesn't it? Unfortunately, many people only took parts of the Toyota Production System. Most times, it was the "tools". The crown jewel, kanban. Value stream mapping. TPM. SMED, 5S. Andon. Etc. Also, many took the concept of "kaizan" to mean 3 day events held in conference rooms led by the lean department or by a consultant. THAT was never the intention. Kaizan isn't an event. It's small, continuous steps toward FLOW. It's teaching and encouraging the people who actually DO the work to see the 8 wastes and eliminate them using the tools every day.

To be successful, teach the tools in the context of solving real problems. It makes no sense to teach people tools they won't use today. Teach people how to systematically solve problems using the scientific method (define-measure-analyze-improve-control) using A3. Then, as the teacher, introduce the tools when they will be useful. These A3s ARE kaizan. One of my favorite customers (a company with 50 people) has 14 ACTIVE kaizan events going on right now. In my company, we did over 350 A3 closings in one year with 70 people. And we grew sales by 80% without adding any new people over a 4 year period using A3 to take waste (time) out of hundreds of processes on the plant floor, in the offices, and in the laboratories. 

It works, and I wish more small companies used this strategy to put a whoopin' on their competitors. Feel free to call me if I can help you in any way!

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