How to start implementing Lean manufacturing

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This is a very common question for manufacturers that are new to “Lean manufacturing”. Many ask: What can it do for my manufacturing business? How should I go about implementing the tools? Where should I start?

I wanted to give manufacturers some input to effectively help your manufacturing organization adopt “Lean”. First, let’s get one thing out of the way: Lean manufacturing is not a program, it’s a philosophy. As such, first and foremost, it requires management commitment, or the implementation will be dead before it starts. Why, you ask? Because if people feel that there is no commitment, they will assume that “Lean manufacturing” is another fad and will eventually go away. Manufacturers may end up with pockets of improvement, from early adopters, only to realize you are scratching the surface. The true benefits of adopting “Lean manufacturing” will become nothing more than a lost opportunity.

There is a famous quote that says: “The culture of an organization is shaped by its leaders.” This is very much applicable here. Early in the implementation, manufacturers need to evaluate their leadership and ensure they are reinforcing the right behaviors. Expectations should be clear, and accountability should be prevalent. Here is a recent blog that will give you an idea of the leadership principles that would help in your transformation.

When manufacturers learn about Lean manufacturing, like most, they might be delighted by all the tools. Yes, it’s important to standardize processes and remove waste. The reality is, relatively few manufacturing leaders understand that the cultural aspect far outweighs the application of the tools. Hence, the low Lean manufacturing implementation success rates. Understand that the intent is to create an empowered and enabled workforce that will constantly be applying the tools, coaching and learning from each other.

Let’s move onto the actual application of the tools. Using a basic tool such as 5S is recommended to get early wins and for people to start seeing the benefits.


Girl in a jacket

Introductory workshops on the fundamental concepts (the 7 wastes, continuous improvement, and standard work) will give your team a sense of where things are going. Some manufacturers have found success in starting a book reading club among managers and staff to learn together. Here is a list of recommended readings and here is a Lean glossary to help you in your journey.

Manufacturers will eventually realize that they will have early and late adopters; but more concerning, there will be those that will not be receptive, regardless of what manufacturing leaders do to help. I recommend manufacturers give these people the opportunity to be engaged in the process; otherwise, they may not see the value or understand the benefit to them. Help them see it, beyond that you will have to make a larger decision: Do they still belong in the organization? Here is what to expect during your lean manufacturing transformation.

Finally, manufacturers should move on to A3 problem solving, creating flow, and value stream mapping. This last one will help manufacturers create a plan to go from localized improvements to systemic operational changes. I know that consultants carry a stigma; my advice, consider engaging one that will help you implement strategic level changes and serve as a guide, trainer, and coach. Ensure you are aligned, and that there is a good fit. More importantly, he/she helps develop a network of problem solvers in your organization.

If you are serious about implementing Lean manufacturing and want to get the results that evade most manufacturers, schedule a time to discuss your situation and how we can help.

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