MFG.com Blog

Lean Manufacturing Q&A

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Last week, MFG.com COO Steve Cook presented a webinar titled "Lean Manufacturing For Your Enterprise," as an introduction and overview for manufacturers considering embarking on a Lean journey. Regardless of your company stature - small- or medium-sized manufacturer, OEM, or large manufacturing organization - Steve's experience with and passion for Lean is a pretty good place to start.

Graphic credit: The Manufacturer (UK/US)

Graphic credit: The Manufacturer (UK/US)

Following the presentation, attendees submitted some great questions to Steve - below are his answers:

Q: Can you give a couple examples of how the MFG team has used Lean when developing their system?
A: The overall business model of bringing together buyers and suppliers online is definitely less wasteful than alternatives such as trade shows, offline and online directories, etc. That being said, as a company we have really just begun our own lean journey. We had our first kaizen event with some of our bigger customers focused on the value stream map for the buy-side processes of our business. We have also started doing high level training for all employees.

Q: There seems to be an inherent contradiction in wanting every employee creatively engaged and wanting every step to be fully defined. I have worked in lots of environments that have complete engagement by the team, and they are terribly inefficient because creativity inherently requires a change in the process. What are your thoughts?
A: The key to a successful lean transformation is in establishing a culture focused on continuous improvement but also focused on sharing these improvements across the organization in a structured way by updating the standard work. If every employee feels empowered to drive change in their processes but doesn’t feel obligated to follow their standard work and share their improvement ideas globally, than there will be chaos and the transformation will not be successful. Alternatively, if every employee feels obligated to follow their standard work but does not feel empowered to drive continuous improvement through structured experimentation, you will still fail. You need both to be successful.

Q: Small changes tend to slip or be rejected. What are the most critical or best things to change in a big way to create the necessary instability to enable small changes to settle?
A:
While I agree that having a crisis makes it much easier to drive the cultural changes necessary for a successful lean transformation, I would still say that if you can drive a culture of following standard work, small changes will not slip or be rejected. The most important thing to change in a big way is the culture of your organization. The leadership team needs to drive the accountability to standard work by checking it every time they go to the gemba.

Q: What are the differences between lean, agile and just in time?
A:
Just in time is a tool that many lean practitioners use, it helps highlight the problems by taking the slack time out of the system, this buffer time usually hides process inefficiencies which need to be eliminated vs. hidden. I’m not familiar with agile as a tool other than its meaning to stay flexible and fast (which are both traits of lean organizations).

Q: How can the lean process take ten years? I know it is a continuous process, but if you are capable of adapting to market changes in less than a year, why will it take 10 to get there in the first place?
A:
I probably shouldn’t have given any specific number, the point I’d like to make is that a lean transformation is a journey with no specific end point. It is not a program and will take years to do really well. You should see results in the first 90 days, but realize that you really are never finished. Lean provides a true north for your organization, but you can always improve and be better and you need to foster a culture that recognizes this and is never satisfied with the status quo.

Q: How do you give lower management and individual employees the sense of ownership in the company and product? This seems to be necessary in order for lean to work.
A:
The best way I have seen this done is through education and leaders learning to ask the right questions. It also helps if you really celebrate and share the wins with the teams.

Q: What is the percentage of large companies introducing lean manufacturing practices and truly committed with it in the US?
A:
It’s hard to know definitively, but I have found data online that would say that greater than 50% of larger companies are attempting a lean transformation at some level in their business.

Q: What is the name of the company that provides free software about the lean process? Do they have a website? How can I get more information?
A:
The name of the company is LeanTAAS. They are working with MFG.com and plan to select a few MFG.com customers to run a limited pilot with. The best way to get hold of this company would be to contact their CEO at mohan.g@leantaas.com .

Q: What should the Internal Buy-in strategies be for a reluctant organization?
A:
This is one of the biggest challenges of a lean transformation. In my case, our entire team recognized that since there was an over capacity situation for the products we manufactured, some plants would need to be shuttered so we were literally in a fight for the life of the plant. It really helps to have a burning platform like this. If you don’t have a crisis and can’t create one (at least in your team’s mind), I would recommend starting with high level lean cultural training and working to ensure that you get wins early on and celebrate them widely. I would pick an area that gets a lot of visibility in your organization, work hard to get the right people in the first kaizen event, and make a big deal of the wins.

Q: Who do you feel offers the most time/cost effective Lean Certification Training?
A:
In general I believe the best way to learn lean is to do it vs. spending a lot of money on external training. I think it makes sense to hire a good Sensei for your top leaders and have most of the training done internally. As for external training, I have attended some training by the Lean Enterprise Institute and was impressed with it.

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