5 ways to get started with Lean and boost your competitiveness

Lean is about involving people throughout your organization in day-by-day, continuing improvements.
By Paul Kuchuris, Association for Manufacturing Excellence July 2, 2014

A successful, enterprise-wide Lean transformation will help your company compete with facilities around the world.

Understand that Lean is a holistic approach. It’s about involving people throughout your organization in day-by-day, continuing improvements. What it’s not: a simplistic strategy focused solely on cost reduction. As a leader, you must create and support cultural change by engaging the hearts, minds and talents of diverse, and sometimes reluctant, individuals and teams within your organization.

Step 1: Collaborate with others on the Lean journey.

Although you’ll need to plan and implement a Lean transformation strategy suited specifically to your organization’s needs, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Gain traction as you drive Lean change throughout the company by learning from others further along the Lean path.

Sharing experiences and "lessons learned" with others builds knowledge and confidence for your challenging Lean quest. You’ll receive encouragement from fellow innovators who’ve likely encountered many of the same hurdles and issues you’re facing. Lean consortia, local and national organizations, websites, conferences and many other resources can provide useful counsel on everything from selecting Lean implementation/training resources and handling resistance to developing related implementation roll-out plans, realistic improvement targets and metrics.

Step 2: Engage employees at all levels and support their change initiatives.

Your company’s Lean success relies on buy-in from all stakeholders. Share your Lean vision, and then invite feedback and participation. Find creative ways to communicate overall goals and strategies. Make your messages clear and personal, providing "what’s in it for me" clinchers. Set clear goals and expectations, cascading these messages through direct reports, and in turn, through all levels in the organization. The need for revisiting and sharing Lean progress is a never-ending process.

Step 3: Cultivate a culture of shared trust and learning.

Do you provide the training in Lean basics and problem solving, plus other resources such as trained facilitators, needed for Lean implementation? Do you regularly go to work areas where your employees implement Lean improvements day-by-day? "Being there" on the factory floor, at the warehouse and in administrative areas provides you much more than an update on current Lean progress. You’re creating opportunities for conversation, for learning about the hassles and the successes that you’d otherwise miss. In turn, you’re gaining new ideas for improving safety and efficiency as you acknowledge others’ suggestions and accomplishments.

Step 4: Recognize and celebrate progress.

Acknowledge early Lean successes, sharing these wins through all-hands and team meetings, newsletters, updates posted in work areas, company intranet communications etc. Let people know their ideas and participation are appreciated. Get creative: Some executives participate in "listen and lunch" gatherings, "manager’s day of work" (managers quarterly spending a day on the factory floor or another work area), reading groups focused on continuous improvement books/learnings and other activities that bring them closer to folks making Lean changes happen.

Step 5: Foster long-term, continual change in your organization, your associates and yourself.

No one said Lean conversion would be easy or quick. In fact, it’s a never-ending journey. Continually hone your skills for coaching, communicating and learning to work and think differently. In turn, your organization will achieve more of what you’re looking for and gain critical flexibility for whatever future challenges you encounter. As you reflect and translate commitment to Lean progress, shared commitment will drive your organization’s competitive success.

Paul Kuchuris is the president of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME). Edited by Brittany Merchut, Project Manager, CFE Media, bmerchut(at)cfemedia.com 

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