Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lean is Usually About Taking Away

One of my lean teachers told me years ago that if you are spending lots of money doing lean, you are probably not doing it right. In most cases, it is about "taking away".

Our companies are the "leanest" as start-ups. An order comes in, we hold it in our hands. Order raw materials to make it (JIT), then go about doing our value added work. Quality is built-in as we proceed, then we deliver it, and hopefully get paid. Not much gets in the way of FLOW. We are flowing about as well as we ever will.  Picture a Maserati Gran Turismo flying down the highway at 90 mph. Everyone has a laser-like focus on the customer and what that customer perceives as value. People are already "cross-trained" (by necessity) and wear many hats. (In 1991, at Duraflex, there were 15-20 of us, and I was the R&D Director, Technical Advisor, Quality Manager, Buyer, and Superintendent of Health & Safety!!).

Then people start to like you, and they give you more orders. You add a person or two to take the burden off the pioneers. If you are fortunate (as we were), lots of people start to like you and you get a crazy number of orders. You add people faster than you can train them, and they get to do just one job. People go from being General Practitioners who make house calls to Specialists. More bodies get thrown at demand. Offices get built, warehouses get leased. Orders don't flow as fast. They get stopped along the way waiting for the specialists. The buyer has to buy, the quality person has to test it before it can ship. The material has to be moved and stored somewhere in order to be shipped. We need to start a safety program, an employee handbook, policies about vacations, break times, expense reimbursement, when people get and don't get holiday pay. Then the shiny new computer system to keep tack of the inventory in the leased warehouse, as well as when and what to make and buy. Then you need to write work standards you can fill up the filing cabinet with that tells the world HOW we process a purchase order. Then, in some cases, you find the need to have people sign off on documents or do senseless, redundant inspections (countermeasures for problems without discovery of root cause).

As necessary as some of these things are, none of them get the all important customer their stuff FASTER, and you can't charge more because you do them. You wake up one day and that lean, fast company everyone fell in love with has become a pickup truck on the highway chock full of mattresses, chicken coops and couches, running down the highway at 40 mph while others are doing 70. 

Here is the beauty of rapid kaizan using A3. Get every person thinking about getting better every day for 15-20 minutes. Challenge the hundreds of processes (and process steps) people do in the name of satisfying customers? Are they value-added? Or non-value added (the customer won't pay more knowing you do them). The people who actually DO the non-value added work, or work laden with waste are most qualified to make improvements. Once this starts to happen, productivity sky rockets (you ship more with less work). 

You NEVER get to go back to the start-up mindset, but you can head in that direction. More Maserati, less overloaded pickup truck!   

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