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It’s Time to Rethink How We Lead On Lean- By Lineview

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Article by Lineview’s Operation Improvement Director

Across the manufacturing world, many people seem to have forgotten what Lean really is.

Where Lean should be used as a tool to eliminate waste and minimise losses, it’s been reduced to reports, paperwork, and check boxes. In their opinion, operations leaders often paralyse themselves – and their production lines – with analysis rather than cutting through to action.

We need to free Lean from offices and boardrooms. It needs to get back down onto the shop floor. It’s the operators, those people with a first-hand view on production, who should bear the responsibility to help drive performance in the plant. But how?

Going Back to the Origins of Lean and the Fundamentals

The foundations of Lean still hold true today. For a system dating back nearly 100 years, it’s impressive how the fundamental Lean philosophies can be pertinent and useful in the digital age of manufacturing.

Reducing waste and minimising losses at the source puts manufacturers in prime position to have substantial impact to boost efficiency and output. But are these fundamentals what are we really seeing on shop floors around the world today? And how can Lean methodologies best fit into a modern manufacturing facility?

“Based on my XX years as a manager on the plant floor and several more helping organisations improve through Lean, here’s what I recommend:

  1. Focus managers on performance. Senior managers getting pulled in so many areas. This is wasteful work better focused on performance.
  2. Empower operators. Frontline operators have lost skills and aren’t necessarily being leant on to help bring the insights and bring the knowledge. Let’s retrain them and reestablish their responsibility and ability to drive performance in the plant.
  3. Stop the chaos. Processes like changeovers are driving chaos in plants. Identify the sources of chaos and focus on creating repeatable, Lean processes.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Senior Managers Are Getting Pulled in Every Direction

Managers are the most valuable, but also expensive labour resources.

As leaders, we need to take a hard look at where and how we’re using our time to drive actionable improvement. I know it sounds impossible, but you may be surprised at how easy it is to better focus and enable your fellow leaders.

Look at the data you already have                                                                                              With Lean manufacturing being omnipresent across the world for so long, Lean philosophies and typical KPIs have made their way directly into production line monitoring software. Instead of spending hours working out each loss and potential remedy on a whiteboard, the data is likely already available within comprehensive digital systems.

Invest in digitalisation and/or improved reports                                                                  I’ll be honest, you’re not along if your team still relies on Excel. I still see an awful lot of people in management scurrying around with Excel spreadsheets, trying to understand performance. They’re writing reports, filling in a range of data and KPIs. When you simplify tracking of line operations with one version of the truth, it’s much easier to focus in on those areas that need to be addressed to drive performance.

Set-up management routines
Instead of trying to focus on everything, a comprehensive bottom-up system can guide leaders where to look. By implementing SIC and other management routines, the process guides how to drive performance so they’re not in the weeds when it’s time for action. For instance, SIC ensures operators on the shop floor are taking responsibility for fixing things on a priority basis, and that’s all getting compiled into a daily or weekly review.

The bottom line? Implementing management routines while establishing Lean practices on the shop floor will free up time and headspace for managers to act on the operational data that’s already available at their fingertips.

Front Line Operators Are Becoming Separated from Lean                                          The responsibility for Lean doesn’t begin and end with managers. There is an opportunity for frontline operators to bring forward manufacturing insights.

Specifically, we need to educate entire operations teams to look at the six losses of production. Whether that takes external partners working to re-train operators, or to develop comprehensive internal programmes, we need to sit team leaders and operators down to help them establish where the losses are in their production lines.

Lean ideologies should be ingrained in operators’ day-to-day thinking to help them see waste as opposed to tolerate it or try to make the best of a bad situation. Constant, incremental change leading to small improvements will have monumental impact in the short and long term.

Chaotic Processes Like Changeovers Are Driving Chaos in Plants                  Variability is the killer of quality. When there’s variation on a line, there’s waste. One of those key waste occurs during ramp-up after changeover.

Many industries, and certainly food and beverage plants, are pushing for an increasing number of SKUs. To keep well-positioned in any highly competitive space, consumer choice rules supreme and because of this, we’re ending up with lines that weren’t designed for this level of changeover. They were designed for long runs and stable conditions. Now we’re disrupting them every few hours, changing components, changing products, and changing speeds. So how do we get that back into control?

If we can optimise this process, and other processes that reduce variability, we can drive out as much waste as possible to realise massive gains in efficiency and output. In this specific instance, this will better harness the power of Lean-based systems like SMED to reduce non-productive time and non-essential activity.

Ready to Rethink How We Lead On Lean?

Lean has proven time and again that it works.

A shift in Lean thinking combined with digital solutions will help teams prioritise how and where to see the key issues causing waste and take a laser focus to reduce loss at every step of the process.

If you’re seeing chaos on your shop floor or want to refocus your Lean efforts, it might be time to reset your team’s idea of Lean and make it an operations wide requirement.


Picture of Makisha Schultz

Makisha Schultz

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