Consistency in managing Lean implementation

by theleanthinker

Although I have only studied Lean for a short time, and only worked in one Lean factory, I understand how important it is for Lean to be fully understood and fully supported by middle-upper managers..  What I’m trying to say is that from my experience, Lean is seen as  a quick fix, and if it doesn’t work, it is quickly tossed aside.  Implementing 5S and perhaps including some visual management such as andon boards, does not constitute a fully fledged Lean execution.  It does however constitute a lack of understanding of the Lean philosophy.

The underlying philosophy of Lean must be understood and believed in for it to prevail.  Most importantly the managers must fully support the Lean efforts, as I have seen first hand Lean efforts fail due to lack of management faith.  For example,  I have worked for a company which employs a number of production supervisors.  With the factory having around 4 different areas (for different products) managed by a different supervisor.  During the course of the year, these supervisors are rotated around the factory, and it is clear that some supervisors embrace Lean, and some do not.  When good “Lean thinking” supervisors are present: productivity increases, defects are reduced (and in turn so is rework) the work environment is safer (as materials and tools are in their correct placements).  This boost in competence is greatly reduced when an “anti-Lean” supervisor takes control of the particular area.

As my position was below the aforementioned supervisors, I had first hand experience of how the management styles differed.  It surprised me how much this changed my way of working, and my attitude to Lean.  An example which I strongly recall is the time I asked for more red-tags, as I had seen various items which needed to be tagged.  The reply was “just take them from another area”.  I wasn’t satisfied with this reply, eventually they would also run out of red tags, then what?  I reminded the supervisor multiple times, however it wasn’t until a 5S meeting one week later, that my voice was finally heard.  The reason for my opinion being taken aboard?  A different supervisor, one who understood the benefits of running a Lean operation.

Another example of this management failure:

I was using a machine which was notoriously temperamental.  Around once an hour it would jam, and stop production for between 2-5 minutes at a time.  As the job was rather tedious I did some rough mental maths and calculated that the loss in production was around 36%.  For this reason a buffer stock was used to supply the next machine in the process.  I had suggested various methods to correct the problems, of course the suggestion of stopping the machine to CORRECTLY fix it, not just temporarily fix it, was a big no no!

It surprised me that a supposed “Lean” company would not follow basic Lean techniques.  Within that factory the mixture of supervisor attitudes reduced the efficiency of their Lean improvements.  Their “goal(s)” needed to be re-aligned, as it seemed like each supervisor had different ideas, and this is not workable in a factory environment.

Management must understand that it can take a long time to gain the support of the workers, yet only a split second, for those efforts to be destroyed.  Keeping all employees focused on a realistic and achievable goal is a step in the right direction.