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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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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