What manufacturers can expect from a Lean transformation


Manufacturing organizations embark on a Lean journey often not realizing the road ahead. Studies have shown that many manufacturing organizations start, but relatively few accomplish their objectives when initiating a Lean transformation. Leaders should realize that starting a Lean transformation cannot be taken lightly. Depending on where the organization is in their journey, a Lean transformation may require significant change. Business leaders should be prepared for, among many things, the following:

How long will it take? – There is no pre-determined length of time to complete a Lean transformation. Every company is a distinct scenario. There might be two companies, from the same industry, that go through a transformation; what you will find is that the process, the time, and the results may be completely different.

False starts – Many companies go through what I call a false start of a Lean implementation. Typically, these initiatives fail, and employees begin to call it a fad. There may have been some early wins, but momentum has been lost completely. The dangerous part about this is that organizations may lose the ground gained, and even worse, leaders may lose the credibility of their workforce.

Some people might not make it – During a Lean transformation people go through certain transitions where behaviors change, and new habits are formed. This creates an environment where current practices are constantly challenged. There are cases where some individuals resist change to the point where they would rather leave than change.

Bullets vs cannon balls – As a Lean transformation progresses, the impact of process improvements is reduced. The “low hanging fruit” begins to run out and your team is making more challenging improvements. Some organizations expect the initial dramatic improvements to continue over time; As you make more improvements, those large cannonball improvements will turn into small bullets, still impactful just on a smaller scale.

Stressful – A manufacturing organization may develop a strong opinion against initiating change. People are creatures of habit, and situations may become stressful for many reasons: Fear of job loss, fear of change, etc.

Fun – As your organization begins to embrace change, people will begin to realize the benefits of improvement. Many will get joy out of taking something that was not working and creating a more productive outcome.

Better Performance – There will, absolutely, be a bottom-line impact to your organization. Better quality, faster lead times, increased capacity, among other benefits.

Improved work environment – Even though hard to quantify, the work environment will improve. Where there was conflict, you will see collaboration. Instead of complaining about problems, people will instead take ownership and begin looking for ways to eliminate the cause.

You will need to recruit your team to embark on this journey.

Girl in a jacket

My intention is to make leaders in manufacturing aware of some things that may not be obvious before starting this journey. Below are some suggestions I can offer that will help make your experience more productive:

  • Senior management must support the Lean initiative – In order to support it, they need to understand it; senior leaders spearheading the initiative is not enough, the entire team is key when promoting an environment of openness to change.
  • Focus on people, not only process – It is undeniably exciting and rewarding to see productivity improve; to see frustration turn into satisfaction. At the same time, we must not neglect the fact that an organization’s culture is shaped by its leaders. Those leadership behaviors are what will carry your culture to longevity. Leaders should support their teams through coaching and mentoring to enforce desirable behaviors.
  • Engage the workforce – There is a difference between doing Lean to people vs doing Lean with them. Empower your workforce to challenge themselves and take ownership of their problems. Allow them to use their knowledge and experience.
  • Don’t lose sight of the big picture –People always respond better when they understand what you are trying to accomplish. Help them understand; they will always ask: What’s in it for me?
  • Not a program but a philosophy – Lean is often referred to as a program. Lean should be viewed as a management philosophy. Lean brings concepts and tools; at the end of the day is about building a business.
  • Be willing to sacrifice to improve –Don’t improve only when business is slow. To build momentum when all improvement activity has stopped is a tall order. Make it a priority, if it’s important to you it will be important to your employees, and it will become part of their daily jobs.

If you are considering implementing Lean in your manufacturing business and would like to discuss your specific situation, schedule a call.

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