The Lean Bug!

Whatever you think of when you see the words “Lean Manufacturing” or “Lean Thinking” you cannot get away from the fact it is a set of business principles, which, when applied, deliver exceptional results.

Over my career, I have seen the impact and benefit that Lean Manufacturing brings to any size of business, from an Engineer (in the 90s) working at an Small SME to a Corporate Exec (2009) implementing Lean Strategies.

I personally got the bug for Lean working for a small company called Linread Northbridge (although part of McKechnie Plc). We were making precision fasteners for several sectors but predominately Aerospace. The MD at the time gave me a book to read on “Kaizen” and I was hooked. From then on I have implemented Lean within every business I have worked in to now helping Manufacturing SMEs with short, high impact Interventions to major Lean Programmes and Strategies.

My first Kaizen event in the 90s was facilitating a SMED event on a Header Machine that took a whole shift to change-over from one product to the next, being trained, coached and mentored by a Japanese Sensei. We got the change-over down to 30 minutes. Through using the correct KPIs and driving root cause analysis I’ve increased production output and capacity in manufacturing cells that businesses have said couldn’t be done. I’ve moved 100+ machining centres within 5 days to create flow and as an Exec have put in place Strategies that realised Savings of +£15m within its first year.

Anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

I’ve heard the words “it won’t work here” more times than anything and I can tell you it’s Bu&*s*&t. The smallest improvement can have the biggest impact and everyday day is a day to grow and develop your potential. (Marginal Gains – The doctrine of marginal gains is all about small incremental improvements in any process adding up to a significant improvement when they are all added together.)

The skill is adapting, modifying and re-designing those business principles to ensure you get measurable and sustained business performance, after all in its simplest form all you are doing is looking at a time line from ‘Sales & Marketing through to production, production through to Customer Delivery’ and reducing that time line by removing the Non-Value Added wastes within it. Yes there are loads of tools and techniques that go hand in hand with that, but the biggest one is leveraging the knowledge within your people to drive continuous improvement.
Lean Manufacturing is not merely a set of mutually supporting techniques, it’s a change in the organisation’s culture and thought processes. The benefits to any business (regardless of size) are huge, and are only limited (in my opinion) by your Organisation’s Culture and Leadership Behaviour. Companies that fully commit to Lean dramatically outperform their competitors over time.
So get as close as possible to where the work is being done, lead from the ground up to first find what the real problems are and then face and resolve the underlying challenges.

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Miss that moment – and you start to decline.

“There is at least one point in the history of any company when you have to change dramatically to rise to the next level of performance. Miss that moment – and you start to decline.” – Andy Gove

My personal view and experience is that it’s more than one point in time.

SMEs are characterised by their ability to adapt easily to market changes and their lean organisational structure (not as in Lean Manufacturing), which results in a more dynamic environment and a quicker decision making process. Although SME businesses vary widely in size and capacity for growth generally they will all follow a similar path: going from Owner/Entrepreneur with two or three employees to a business aiming for £10m or even £20m per year, and experiencing 20%/30% year on year growth and upwards along this journey. The sketch below illustrates an example of this, showing where most businesses may feel the pinch points of growth at key intersections.

SME Journey and Growth

Zero to £5m

The hard work really kicks in here. This part of the journey is often the one that is the most lonely, but often the most exciting. But it is here that most business owners feel the pains. Because it can be a lonely place, it is easy for owners to doubt themselves, they also don’t know what they don’t know which can be a limiting factor. And as an owner one of the main areas of responsibility is simply getting things done, which means you are working in your business as a manufacturer, and not working on it as a strategic leader.

In smaller SMES, management structures are also small with most owners being very hands-on. People are stretched across all functions all processes. Systems are not in place, IT is minimal or non-existent and there is a lack of standard processes. Utilising the Continuous Improvement and Management graph we can see that all levels are being worked with a very lean structure. Small customer projects, odd-job shop style of working.

SME Zero to £5m

As we get closer to a turnover of £5m, it becomes clear that things need to change. We are then moving from that odd-job, one off customer delivery to a mix of bigger projects, possible increased volumes and an increase in market share from your customers. As we start to scale-up from the initial start-up, decisions have to be made about the organisational structure, the company’s technology infrastructure, its business and marketing strategy, etc. With regard to organisational structure, you might now start to see the requirement for supervisory position(s) to take on more of the owners duties, the labour force growing, new machines, loans, investment, functional departments, Operations, Quality, Sales, Technical, Finance. This is where it can be rise or decline with those decisions. In scaling and growth and the opportunities it also brings its own set of problems, (albeit they are nice problems to have because its growth).

£5m to £10m

IT Systems and Planning may start to become an issue here, Microsoft Excel may no longer be good enough to manage your shop floor requirements (although I have seen £100m business still using excel but it was beginning to creak), and you are likely at this level to be considering MRP/ERP implementations. You may also look at outsourcing some functions, like Sales, Human Resources, Engineering Support, Quality, Quality Accreditation. All this requires a lot of investment in terms of time, money and energy. You need to do your homework to avoid costly mistakes, especially where IT is concerned, but it’s all opportunity.

And this stage, the business owner is now becoming more removed from the day to day operational tasks on the shop floor. This can be a very uncomfortable feeling in one or two ways. Firstly, the owner may want that hands-on role and not relinquish that part. It could be that the business is now at the stage where the owner is stopping it from growing, the entrepreneurial side is restricted as they are tied to the business. There a number of factors and variables in play, and having the right people is key, being a good leader is fundamental (at all stages).

SME £5m to £10m

£10m upwards

Financial Audits are required at this point (although some companies can be exempt if they satisfy certain criteria), so businesses need to be aware of the UK Audit requirements. Similar issues and opportunities still arise, but on a grander scale. Organisational structures are still fundamental, we might now start to see the need for Middle Management. We may also be looking to diversify into new markets, take on bigger orders, and higher volume. From £5m and up, some of your customers may not be the ones you want to deal with now, the one-off, low volume, job shop may not be your ideal customer. You might be seeing more of a need for Product Flow and Cells (Lean Manufacturing is a must from when you first start up), competition is high so you cannot stand still, even if your decision is to stay at a certain level. You will need to be driving for improvements to maintain the status quo, and your service has to be exceptional. Collaboration with a network of Manufacturers and or Partners, in my opinion, is key in this new world, and can bring some fantastic opportunities for growth. Again, IT infrastructure comes into play as the business is getting bigger: more employees, management leadership. The addition of new premises or additional buildings on the same industrial estate (this is where having a world class logistics operations pays dividends in not impacting your efficiency/productivity). The opportunities may now open up bringing the out-sourced services back in house, Sales and Human Resources, etc. At this level, you are likely to be making informed decisions based around data. Strategy alignment throughout the organisation is required, communicated and disseminated so everyone in the organisation knows the direction the company is going in and what the priorities are.

SME £10m upwards

Every business is different. One business’s pinch point may be at £3.5m another’s £7.5m but there will be very similar decisions to be made, but at this level the advantage is that businesses are likely to be able to make these decisions in a more informed way through data. Companies may not achieve sustained profitable growth unless they draft in the specialist skills required at the right time for the business. It’s the maxim that we don’t know what we don’t know. And the best advice is to seek advice from the experts in order to shift the dial in the right direction. This is something we can certainly help with, just contact the number below.

Ask yourself:

How much will it cost you not to resolve the issues that you are currently facing now or in the immediate future? How much will it cost you not to eliminate that pain? What are the lost opportunities on not taking your business to the next level or indeed keeping it at the level you want?

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The Productivity Puzzle and Lean

I’ve never been one to shout about Lean, Six Sigma or Theory of Constraints, to individuals to solve a solution. I personally have though, applied the tools and techniques to resolve a situation or gain an opportunity I have faced. Granted, it’s not just about the application of tools and techniques, it’s equally important to focus on People, Culture and Managing Change within today’s organisations and society. Every single person has touched or been a part of a Lean process, within our everyday life from grocery shopping to our work we will have been in contact with lean in motion.

The interesting thing I have noticed recently are the articles beginning to appear regarding “is Lean at a crossroads?” and “How Lean is perceived today” particularly in the UK (but perhaps globally). An article by Morpheus Group stated “Businesses are taking a much more pragmatic approach, using a blend of tools….with very few businesses labeling their Corporate Programmes as Lean”.

It does seem that Lean and other Japanese terms associated with it are perceived a risk to alienating the workforce. I wonder why? Are we that uncomfortable with something that is not invented by us?? Are we hiding behind the terms as an excuse not to change??? (There is no doubting it is hard to implement and sustain, but that should never be an excuse). When I personally think about these questions it’s never been about the wording (don’t get me wrong I do cringe with some of them) but it’s about the application, execution/implementation that is key and the right behaviours that drive it so that we can benefit from it.

Businesses are placing a lot of importance on Strategic Cost Saving and Quality. This is absolutely fundamental in “Change” for any business. Strategy and Performance Management, Policy Deployment, Hoshin Kanri, whatever you choose to call it, is the back bone of your business, it is how you do business.

I believe Business Improvement is more important today than it ever has been with the globalisation of markets. What is it that gives us the competitive edge? In particular UK Productivity remains below pre-recession levels. I have been in discussion groups where an estimated 40% of productivity is lost through non value added activities, an estimated £3 Billion cost. Something Lean, Six Sigma, TOC can certainly impact.

This debate will carry on and involves so much from skills, impact on society, etc., etc.

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We’re different it won’t work here

It’s been an interesting month, great meetings, new contacts and one of the most interesting presentations I‘ve given regarding Operational Excellence and Problem Solving.

The presentation was given to the Manufacturing and Construction sectors as part of a Seminar/Workshop.

The comments at the end we’re ones I have heard over and over again, “We’re Different, it won’t work here!

Is “we’re different” an excuse not try to improve?

This got me thinking in one of my reflective moments, what is it that naturally creates this push back? Do we think that Business Excellence, Operational Excellence, Lean or Six Sigma is a technical tool and technique, only applied to manufacturing, high volume processes, etc? Is it we naturally assume that it’s for the automotive industry?

There are a number of answers you can come up with that can be assigned to this emotion and push back.

So we have to ask ourselves

Do business improvement principles (as that is all they are) apply to pretty much every process? Yes, I’d say so. Does that mean its easy to put in place? Absolutely not. But that, along with being different, should be no reason to not try.

Which leads me on from last month’s article REFLECTION! and into OPERATIONAL EXCELLENCE TRANSFORMATION

We must first seek to understand what is it we are trying to solve, what problem? This could be as an organisation, function, sub-process.

Then we must ask,

What process improvement needs to be done? What do I need to design, re-design, improve to solve our problem and achieve our objective?

Next,

Do I have the capability in house? Do I have the skillset within my team?

We then come to,

What mindset do I need to have? Growth? (One of learning as we do not have the capability in house), Implementation (I have the capability so execute, or get support if you don’t), Experimental (try and test)

Remembering that Leadership behaviour and Programme Management are the key. The governance process you apply.

Final thought – it’s often said that “Operational Excellence doesn’t succeed or fail… it’s just a set of principles. What succeeds or fails is the organisation or the leaders who try.” Success isn’t guaranteed — it requires hard work and creativity to figure out how will work in your setting, because you are different!

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How Good is Your Factory? Are there Opportunities?

When you walk your factory floors there are nine items to get an accurate first impression of how lean you are.

1. Work Stations?
Are they clean, organised, free from unnecessary material and equipment?
Are tools organized, identified and easy to find?
(Are 5S’s in place? Visual labeling? Is the factory well lit? Is equipment clean? Supervision and support personnel on shop floor? Metal on metal contact? Safety hazards? Debris on the floors? Check out the bathroom cleanliness.)

2. How many Monuments do you see?
Monuments are massive machines anchored to the deck, not easily moved to which material has to be delivered to, can cause issues with the flow of product (lack of flexibility)
Are they still in use? Not to be confused with age, often older machines are purpose built and give us flexibility in cellular manufacturing. Can machinery, material locations, drop offs be easily rearranged?

3.Work in Process?
Are there piles and piles of Work in Process (WIP)? Has some of it grown roots, celebrated its 1st, 2nd even 3rd birthdays? Does it have any paperwork? Do you have HOT items?
In the ideal factory you should only have the WIP you are working on and its classed as Standard in Process Stock (SIPS) in my eyes as it is controlled.

4. Can everyone see if they are on Target or Behind Schedule?
Hour by hour monitoring, or close to real time as you can get. Can you see the Abnormal from Normal? Use Red and Green to distinguish. Is abnormal recorded for root cause corrective action?

5. What other Metrics do your teams have?
What charts, graphs, objectives, are posted in the area? Are they a Standard Document? (revision controlled, time and date stamped)
Are the Metrics up to date, reviewed, actioned? Again are they on Target? Can you see the Abnormal from Normal easily?

6. Are Materials delivered to or stacked at the Point of Use?
If a worker loses a component (screw, nut, rivet) do they have to go to the stockroom? Ask yourself how are items replenished? Does the replenishment depend on a crane or forklift?

7. Does the Product Flow?
Through a cell, moving line or in large batches or lots? Are associates close together, can they talk to one another, see one another’s WIP, do they help each other out if something goes wrong?

8. Look at the Testing and Inspection?
Where is the Product inspected and tested? Do the associates do most of the inspections or does the product move to another area? Do you have large numbers of inspectors? What is your inspection backlog? Are your defects recorded, reviewed actioned? Are they reducing?

9. Ask! Talk! Communicate! Question!
The biggest and most important. Show dignity and respect at all times, question and challenge, talk to the people on the front line and ask why? Understand? Use your senses.
This list is not definitive and its definitely not just for manufacturing, you apply to all functions, businesses, sectors, industries. Now Go Look See!

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