Looking for Lean: Define a Process, Embrace Change
By Lisa Harbatkin Finding success in the Lean manufacturing philosophy isn't just about changing your manufacturing processes — it also requires finding the management executives who are willing to encourage and embrace change.
What changes can help you get faster turnaround? How can you position yourself better againstyour competition? Do you really need to source that highly carved table leg overseas? Will smaller machines dedicated to specific processes give you better results than one large machining center? Who are the best people for guiding companies through these and other decisions? “Lean” is just another word for a common-sense efficiency-based approach to structuring the business processes that can helpyou answer these and other enterprise-critical questions. It enforces a more detailed way of looking at internal data flows and of evaluating a company's position in its market. As such, it's a subject matter expertise in itself. The term is relatively new. But the basics of Lean are rooted in the automobile industry, dating back to Henry Ford by way of the Toyota Production System. But today'sLean proponents emphasize that Lean skills transfer readily from one industry to another, and Lean processes can be applied at all levels of the business from the plant floor to the office. Goals in implementing the Lean approach are “to cut costs, improve productivity, and meet competitive pressures,” says Terry Hindmarch, managing partner at executive search company TowerHunter. Lean calls fordefining company goals based on customer needs and product focus. “Lean is a toolset, a methodology, that helps you improve your morale, quality, delivery and cost, and particularly productivity,” says Ed Constantine, chairman of Simpler Consulting Group, which helps companies implement Lean processes. “It's aimed at transforming corporate culture.” Jim LoPresti, principal in V2R Consulting Group,sees Lean “as a process to identify and eliminate waste. The principles are very robust and can apply across a wide range of businesses and to any application within a company,” he says. V2R works with companies on strategic planning and Lean implementation.
Bottom-line improvements are a key driver in company decisions to adopt Lean practices. “You'll have measurable, concrete results fromimplementing these principles,” Hindmarch says. “It's elimination of waste in terms of time and materials. It's increased efficiency in transportation and stock on hand and a decrease in defective products.” Lean practices also make it inherently easier to comply with regulatory mandates, and they provide the information needed to make decisions on questions like what to outsource and whether tomanufacture overseas. “You definitely become safer with standardized processes,” LoPresti says. “Your company becomes more structured and based on best practices.” Operations based on best practices “tend to be inherently safer,” he says. Plus, LoPresti continues, “as companies become more efficient, they can lower their costs and perhaps limit their outsourcing. They can examine their key corecompetencies and decide on a strategic basis what they can do most efficiently and then outsource the rest.” “The questions boil down to who's the best source,” Constantine says. “A lot of people pursue outsourcing because they think the best source is somewhere else. But you as a manufacturer should ask what if your costs were 20 percent less and lead times were in days instead weeks or months, and youwere a zero-deficit supplier? Would you still outsource?” Companies can do those calculations and conclude that it pays to outsource some operations and not others. “But if you're going to pick a supplier, you want to pick one that's doing Lean,” Constantine says, noting that Lean telegraphs throughout the system. People and process With allowance for company size and the number of employees,...