Choose Wisely: The Lean Manufacturing Consultant that Gets Results.

 

Abstract

After reading this article you will learn about the type of consultants that get you results, so when faced with a decision you will have a better understanding of how to choose a consulting partner. I will help you answer what is a Lean manufacturing consultant, I will also provide a detailed examination of the educational and experiential prerequisites for consultants. You will learn about the responsibilities shouldered by consultants, from conducting assessments and developing lean strategies to providing training, monitoring progress, and facilitating essential change management. I will even give you criteria to distinguish between good from less impactful ones, shedding light on the importance of adaptability, communication skills, and collaborative approaches. Finally, you will learn the skill set necessary for an ideal consultant, ranging from analytical abilities and effective communication to problem-solving, leadership, and adaptability, emphasizing the importance of empathy and trust-building.

Did You Know?

  • Success rates for Lean Manufacturing initiatives average around 24%.
  • Over 70% of manufacturers are actively engaged in improvement efforts.
  • Lean consultants often provide an average ROI of close to 500%.
  • Average engagement with Lean consultants is worth seven to eight figures in savings, both tangible and intangible.

Key Takeaways

DIMENSION TAKEAWAY
Definition A seasoned professional with expertise in applying lean principles to guide manufacturers in optimizing performance and achieving improved business results.
Career Path Consultants typically have degrees in engineering, industrial engineering, business, or related fields. Industry experience, lean training, specialization, consulting experience, leadership, and change management skills are crucial for success.
Roles & Responsibilities Consultants conduct assessments, develop lean implementation strategies, provide training, monitor and evaluate progress, and facilitate change management within organizations.
Good vs. Bad Consultants Good consultants have expertise, adaptability, effective communication, problem-solving ability, and a collaborative approach. Bad consultants exhibit rigidity, poor communication, resistance to feedback, and a lack of empathy.
Leadership Commitment Successful lean consultants emphasize the critical role of leadership commitment in setting the tone for the entire organization and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.
Focus on People and Culture Lean is not just about processes; effective consultants understand the importance of addressing people and culture in addition to reliable processes.
Data-Driven Decision Maling Lean consultants emphasize the significance of leveraging data to monitor performance, identify areas for improvement, and make informed decisions for success.
Analytical Skills Ideal consultants possess strong analytical skills to assess processes, identify inefficiencies, and develop data-driven solutions.
Communication and Interpersonal Skills Effective communication and interpersonal skills are crucial for building relationships, facilitating training sessions, and garnering support at all levels of the organization.
Problem-Solving Abilities Lean consultants must be adept problem solvers, capable of identifying root causes and implementing effective and sustainable solutions.
Leadership and Change Management Skills Vital for guiding organizations through the cultural shift required for successful lean transformations and inspiring teams to embrace lean principles.
Trust, Credibility, and Respect (TCR) Consultants should quickly establish trust, credibility, and respect with clients to be effective change agents in a lean transformation effort.

Manufacturing organizations are increasingly turning to lean principles to enhance efficiency, reduce waste, and optimize processes. As a result, the role of lean manufacturing consultants has become instrumental in guiding businesses on their journey toward stronger execution and higher profits. In this blog post I will explore the roles and responsibilities of lean manufacturing consultants, distinguishing between good and bad consultants, drawing lessons from their experiences, and outlining the skills and abilities that define the ideal consultant. These ideas will help you select a capable consultant to help you improve your business.

1. What is a Lean Manufacturing Consultant?

A lean manufacturing consultant is a seasoned business professional with expertise in applying lean principles and methodologies, specializing in guiding manufacturers through the implementation of lean practices to optimize performance and achieve improved business results (i.e., profitability, cash flow, sales growth, etc.). Lean consultants bring a combination of industry knowledge, business acumen, and change management expertise to assist manufacturers in transforming their businesses and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

 
Watch this video to learn more about the four stages of improvement for a manufacturing business.

2. Career Path of a Lean Manufacturing Consultant

 

Educational Background

Lean manufacturing consultants hold degrees in engineering, industrial engineering, business, or a related field. Additionally, certifications in lean and Six Sigma, such as those offered by organizations like the Lean Certification Alliance, can enhance a consultant’s credibility.

Industry Experience

Practical experience in the manufacturing industry is a valuable foundation for a career as a lean manufacturing consultant. Professionals often gain hands-on experience in roles such as production management, continuous improvement, process engineering, or quality control, developing a deep understanding of manufacturing processes and challenges.

“Lean consultants without hands-on experience will be largely ineffective. Buyer beware.”

Lean Training and Certification

Aspiring lean consultants typically undergo specialized training in lean principles and methodologies. Certification programs, workshops, and seminars provide consultants with the knowledge and skills necessary to lead lean initiatives effectively. Continuous learning and staying updated on the latest trends in lean manufacturing are crucial for success in this dynamic field.

Building Expertise and Specialization

Consultants often build expertise in specific industries or aspects of lean manufacturing, such as value stream mapping, Kanban systems, or lean supply chain management. Specialization allows consultants to offer targeted and tailored solutions to their clients.

Consulting Experience

Transitioning into a consulting role often involves gaining experience in consultancy firms or working independently on lean projects. This hands-on experience allows consultants to apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios, develop client relationships, and refine their problem-solving and communication skills.

Read this page to learn more about us as a company.

Leadership and Change Management Skills

Successful lean manufacturing consultants develop strong leadership and change management skills. These skills are crucial for guiding organizations through cultural shifts, managing resistance to change, and inspiring teams to embrace lean principles.

Advanced Degrees (Optional)

While not mandatory, some lean manufacturing consultants pursue advanced degrees, such as a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) or a Master’s in Industrial Engineering. Advanced degrees can enhance their strategic thinking and leadership capabilities.

Continuous Professional Development

Given the dynamic nature of the manufacturing industry, continuous professional development is essential for staying relevant. Consultants often engage in ongoing training, attend workshops, and seek opportunities to enhance their skills and knowledge.

Entrepreneurial Opportunities

Experienced consultants may choose to start their own consulting firms, offering specialized services to a broader client base. Entrepreneurial ventures allow consultants to have a more significant impact on the industry and take on leadership roles in shaping lean practices.

3. Roles and Responsibilities of Lean Manufacturing Consultants

 

3.1 Conducting Assessments

One of the primary responsibilities of a lean manufacturing consultant is to conduct comprehensive assessments of a company’s current processes. This involves analyzing workflows, identifying bottlenecks, and assessing overall operational efficiency. Consultants use various tools and methodologies, such as value stream mapping and process flow analysis, to gain a deep understanding of the organization’s current state.

 

Watch this video to learn how we uncover profit margin improvement opportunities for manufacturing businesses.

3.2 Developing Lean Implementation Strategies

Based on the assessments, consultants play a crucial role in developing and implementing lean strategies tailored to the specific needs of the organization. This includes creating a roadmap for the implementation of lean principles, setting achievable goals, and designing strategies for continuous improvement.

3.3 Providing Training and Education

Effective communication and knowledge transfer are essential aspects of a lean consultant’s role. Consultants must provide training and education to employees at all levels, ensuring that the principles of lean manufacturing are understood and embraced throughout the organization. This includes workshops, seminars, and ongoing coaching to instill a culture of continuous improvement.

3.4 Monitoring and Evaluation

Lean consultants continuously monitor the progress of lean initiatives, tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) and assessing the impact of implemented changes. Regular evaluations help identify areas for improvement and ensure that the organization stays on track to meet its lean manufacturing goals. Lean consultants should also evaluate your personnel’s ability to adopt and implement Lean practices.

3.5 Facilitating Change Management

Implementing lean principles often requires a cultural shift within an organization. Lean consultants play a crucial role in facilitating change management by working closely with leadership, addressing resistance to change, and fostering a collaborative environment that encourages employees to embrace new ways of working. This represents the most challenging aspect of a Lean consultant’s role.

Read this article to learn more about how to get the most from a Lean consultant.

4. Good vs. Bad Lean Manufacturing Consultants

 

4.1 Characteristics of Good Consultants

Expertise

Good consultants possess in-depth knowledge of lean principles and methodologies. They stay abreast of industry trends, best practices, and emerging technologies to provide informed guidance.

Adaptability

Successful consultants are adaptable and can tailor lean strategies to the unique needs and challenges of each organization. They understand that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work in the dynamic world of manufacturing.

Read this article to learn more about what Lean Consulting can do for Manufacturers.

Communication Skills

Effective communication is a hallmark of a good consultant. They can convey complex concepts in a clear and accessible manner, fostering understanding and buy-in at all levels of the organization.

Problem-Solving Ability

Lean manufacturing often involves solving complex problems. Good consultants are adept problem solvers, utilizing data-driven approaches to identify root causes and implement effective solutions.

Collaborative Approach

Collaborating with all levels of the organization is crucial for success. Good consultants build relationships, engage with employees, and foster a sense of ownership among the workforce.

“Effective solutions come from the integration of your team’s ideas and the consultant’s guidance.”

4.2 Characteristics of Bad Consultants

 

Rigidity

Consultants who insist on rigid, textbook approaches without considering the unique aspects of an organization may hinder rather than help the lean transformation process. Furthermore, consultants that seem to be purists, meaning that they emphasize one way of doing things or Japanese terms that don’t add value to the client’s goals.

Poor Communication Skills

Communication breakdowns can be a red flag. Consultants who struggle to convey concepts or fail to engage with employees may hinder the successful implementation of lean principles.

Resistance to Feedback

A consultant unwilling to listen to feedback and adapt their approach based on the organization’s specific challenges is likely to face difficulties in achieving success. This is where vulnerability is key; when lean consultants feel they need to be the smartest person in the room, that’s a red flag.

Lack of Empathy

A lack of empathy for the challenges faced by employees during the lean transformation process can lead to frustration and resistance, hindering the success of the initiative. I have observed two types of consultants with this characteristic:

  1. The consultant that held executive roles during his/her corporate career. This consultant typically connects well with senior leaders but fails to understand the challenges shop floor employees and mid-level managers face. These consultants, while knowledgeable, become distant from the hands-on work and thus ineffective.
  2. The consultant that hasn’t had leadership experience during his/her corporate career; mostly held engineering, consulting straight-out-of-college, or technically focused roles. This consultant typically connects well with the shop floor employees and mid-level managers. However, fails to understand the big picture or the financial/business implications of improving the business. Therefore, these consultants fail to empathize with the challenges that manufacturing executives face. This can create a disconnect and deem the consultant ineffective as well.

5. Lessons from Lean Manufacturing Consultants

 

Importance of Leadership Commitment

Successful lean consultants often highlight the critical role of leadership commitment in the success of lean initiatives. When leaders are actively engaged and committed to the lean journey, it sets the tone for the entire organization and fosters a culture of continuous improvement. Furthermore, strong lean consultants educate and then demand leadership commitment.

Read this article to learn more about 10 Reasons Why Lean Transformations Fail.

Focus on People and Culture

Lean is not just about processes; it’s about people and culture. Effective Lean Consultants understand this and adapt their approach to address all three aspects. Besides reliable processes, you’ll need to develop strong leaders and develop a culture that will help you sustain a high-performing business in the long-run.

Read this page to learn more about our approach that focuses on people, processes, and culture.

Continuous Learning and Adaptation

The manufacturing sector is often evolving, with new technologies and methodologies emerging regularly. Consultants stress the importance of continuous learning and adaptation to stay ahead of industry trends and ensure that lean strategies remain effective in the long term.

 

Watch this video to learn more about the right mindset for continuous improvement.

Data-Driven Decision Making

Lean consultants emphasize the significance of data-driven decision-making. Organizations that leverage data to monitor performance, identify areas for improvement, and make informed decisions are better positioned for success in their lean journey.

Read this article to learn more about how to get the most from a Lean Consultant.

6. Skills and Abilities of an Ideal Lean Manufacturing Consultant

 

Analytical Skills

Ideal lean manufacturing consultants possess strong analytical skills to assess current processes, identify inefficiencies, and develop data-driven solutions for improvement. Furthermore, ideal Lean consultants should be adept at drawing intelligence from data and validating with the client to avoid making mistaken assumptions.

Communication and Interpersonal Skills

Effective communication and interpersonal skills are crucial for building relationships with clients, facilitating training sessions, and garnering support from employees at all levels of the organization.

Read this article we published In Industry Week magazine to learn more about the five disciplines of strong manufacturing management.

Problem-Solving Abilities

Lean consultants must be adept problem solvers, capable of identifying the root causes of issues and implementing effective and sustainable solutions. The consultant needs to be confident that while he doesn’t have the answers, he can guide the team to finding them.

“Lean Consultants should ask thought-provoking questions that uncover the path to the solutions to your challenges. Not give you the answers.”

Leadership and Change Management

Leadership and change management skills are vital for guiding organizations through the cultural shift required for successful lean transformations. Consultants must inspire and lead teams toward embracing lean principles.

“The best Lean Consultants are not career consultants; they have experience leading teams.”

Trust, Credibility, and Respect (TCR)

Lean consultants should be able to quickly establish the three building blocks of influencing others:

  1. Trust – Display through behaviors and words that they have a trustworthy character to collaborate with the team.
  2. Credibility – Demonstrate their competence in the subject matter at hand and the ability to expand the team’s perspective.
  3. Respect – The ability to earn the team’s respect by treating everyone in the organization as they would like to be treated. Respecting their points of view and allowing them to engage in a healthy manner.

“Lean consultants unable to build TCR will struggle to be effective change agents. Period.”

Adaptability

The ability to adapt strategies to the unique needs of each organization is a key trait of successful lean consultants. Flexibility in approach ensures that solutions are tailored to the specific challenges faced by the client. This should be the prime strength of a Lean consultant, the ability to add value in a short period of time no matter the situation, industry, or team.

Empathy

Empathy for the challenges faced by employees during the lean transformation process is crucial. Consultants who understand and address the human side of change are more likely to achieve sustainable results. Having emotional intelligence is key here: Being self and socially aware and able to self and socially manage the interactions with others is an invaluable ability.

“Lean Consultants need to be equipped to handle the emotionally loaded environment that is leading a client through a performance improvement effort.”

Lean manufacturing consultants play a pivotal role in guiding manufacturers towards operational excellence. Their responsibilities span from conducting assessments and developing strategies to providing training and fostering a culture of continuous improvement. Distinguishing between good and bad consultants is essential for manufacturers seeking to increase profitability.

Lessons from successful lean consultants underscore the importance of leadership commitment, a focus on people and culture, continuous learning, and data-driven decision-making. The ideal lean consultant possesses a combination of analytical skills, effective communication, problem-solving abilities, leadership qualities, industry knowledge, adaptability, and empathy.

7. Conclusion

As manufacturers navigate the complex terrain of lean transformations, choosing the right consultant can be a decisive factor in the success of their journey. By learning from the experiences of lean consultants and understanding the key attributes that define success, manufacturers can position themselves for sustained excellence in the competitive world of manufacturing.

 

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