I read quite a few job descriptions developed by HR departments advertising for a Lean trained employee. I am not impressed. They string together a list of qualifications and certifications they desire. But do they truly understand the world of Lean. Or do they just want to jump in to the latest craze and have to figure out a way. I envision the conversation that leads to the decision to authorize a new employee do “do” Lean at the company. The boss says “our competitor is starting to do Lean. I read a couple of articles on it and we need to give it a try for our manufacturing operations. Assign this position to the COO and lets get it done.” So the COO tells HR I want an employee who can do Lean for us in manufacturing. Go find one. The HR manager looks for other ads for Lean Manufacturing employees and cobbles together a list of qualifications. They usually include having a six sigma belt, being certified in Lean Manufacturing from a training entity and X years of experience at another company. Team player is usually in there. Ability to teach, mentor and coach others. Develop training materials. Establish performance measures. And don’t forget catering to the bosses. Develop strong working relationship with the leadership is one I see often.By the time I an finished reading the PD, I realize I am not qualified for the job. That is, according to their terms.
What is the company looking for? I am not sure they have any idea.
Without a top leader committed to Lean, the results are not going to be as good as they could be. You can still get results, but nowhere as outstanding as they could be. Think of a football team that has a great offense, but sucks on defense. They can still be a losing team. I like the concept that Sir David Brailsford, coach of the British cycling team uses as his foundation: the aggregation of marginal gains. He seeks improvement everywhere, using every means possible. And they have a great performance measurement system—they have to win and place in races. The have done that with 80% of the gold medals won in Olympic Cycling during his first 2 Olympics. What a CEO who focuses on manufacturing does is already a loss, no matter what improvements are made there. Now why do I say that?
The COO decides they want to do a Kaizen to improve the manufacturing process. So they do a Kaizen, and eliminate some waste and increase flow. Gosh, this is good. Let’s do another part of the manufacturing line. For a couple of years they struggle along with Lean and finally say enough. The results aren’t good enough, and oh, by the way, the Lean guy is costing us $100,000 a year with benefits. We can save $100,000 by letting him go. Another failed effort. Why has it failed. The bottom line for improvements in manufacturing cannot statistically add that much to a company without considering the whole. A true Lean system will start with the customer, work through flow and move into pull systems all the while finding every bit of waste that can be eliminated. Let’s take a look at a strategic view of implementing Lean.
Start with getting a committed CEO. You know what? That CEO doesn’t need to know a thing about Lean. But they do need to be willing to learn while they are giving total support to their implementation. Then you find a Lean Executive coach to guide the CEO and his staff, starting with an introduction to the culture of Lean. And don’t just sit in the conference room looking at a powerpoint. A Lean Coach will introduce the context for Lean, then take the management team on a Gemba walk. We start at the earliest place in the facility where we can identify the customer. That might be the loading dock, or the patient waiting area, or the cashier’s counter. Doesn’t matter. That’s where you start. then your work your way back. Look at flow, check for inventory, WIP, workplace organization, safety issues—it’s all there waiting for a seasoned eye to evaluate. It doesn’t matter if your workplace is manufacturing, service, medical, social service, distribution, repair—it’s all evaluated and improved the same way. Do you need a coach that is versed in every functional area of your workplace? No. Those people are your employees. A coach is there to draw the best out of what you have. We use a specific process for improving the workplace. Let’s look at an example for a position I actually applied for, the manufacture of hot tubs. It starts with the molding process. Support is added through fiberglassing and framing. Then it moves to drilling holes for jets and installing tubes for water and air flow. You install a motor and controls. It’s finished and packaged for shipment. How can a Lean Coach without specific experience in the manufacture of hot tubs add value to the enterprise. That’s actually very easy.
We start with determining Takt Time. How many units are needed every day to meet demand. It a hundred units are needed, on average, and one shift is worked, then we need to produce one hot tub every 4.8 minutes. That doesn’t mean we need to make them in that amount of time. It’s just a measure for one finished every 4.8 minutes. Divide the number of minutes in a work day (480) by the number of units needed (100) and you have a target to aim for.
The next goal is to understand cycle time for building a hot tub. Cycle time starts when you receive an order from a customer and. It goes through when the molding starts, framing and glassing, drilling, installation of components, finishing, packing and shipment. Let’s say that process takes 45 days. When we map the Value Stream, or a part of it, we will separate Cycle Time into Lead Time and Value Adding Time. That’s easy to do. We take a stopwatch and time whenever an employee is touching the product for making it. Filling the mold is value adding time. Waiting for the mold to accomplish its work is waiting. Drilling is Value Adding. Installing Jets, tubing, motors, controls, speakers and anything else is value adding. By taking about 10 measurements, then separating them into ranges, leaves you with a median VAT. Subtract that from total Cycle Time (Called Lead Time) gives you the amount of waste in the process.
So if our process (Cycle Time) takes 45 days (1,080 hours), and actual hands on time is 43.2 hours, then 94% of your Cycle Time is waste. (43.2/1080) Can you reduce that? Absolutely. Creating flow can immediately eliminate a substantial percentage of the waste. When the order is received, it can be put in a que for starting its manufacture (FIFO). The appropriate molding machine gets the order, setting up a pull system for materials. The mold is loaded and the cycle started. Then it’s pulled and moved to framing and fiberglassing, with as little time between the work as possible. The tub is moved to each next station in a continuous flow, and when that station is done, the next product moves in and is worked on. For models that are daily similar and might have different options installed, those options are programmed in the Kanban system and a foreman, or shop floor manager, makes sure that what is needed will be delivered when needed. The process of assembling the hot tub is very simple. When you have the process mapped, your experienced assembly and supervisory team, along with some administrative staff, will find the improvements that are available. A coach will guide them with instruction about what waste is and how to eliminate it. The team will identify the waste. It’s a teaching exercise with a good outcome. Creating flow helps reduce the wastes of transportation and waiting. Looking at how the work is done and the ready access to tools helps eliminate the waste of motion. Inserting a kitting cart can function as a Kanban with different kits for each option. This will help by eliminating motion, inventory and transportation. Defects will start to reduce immediately, and rework should become a part of the past. Quality will improve, and because crisis mode is a part of the past, employees will become less stressed and start being able to use their creative side to identify problems and develop counter measures and permanent fixes in the future. After the future state is identified, the Next Current State is laid out, standard work is developed, and the new NCS system tested. It will be put in place as soon as feasible.
Oh. We have probably created a treasure chest of next scheduled Kaizen’s. Whenever employees do their problem identification, they always identify problems in other parts of the process. Trust me, always.
I have left a lot out of the description. We are not trying to achieve perfection. We are training by doing. By the end of the week, we have a flow identified and established. There will be problems in getting it working. So what? We are training a team on how to identify problems, implement countermeasures if needed and establish a permanent improvement. Our pull systems will be defective to start with. We might need to add a Water Spider and purchase/create the kitting cars. The Kanban system will need to be worked on. If a certain tubing pattern is used on a Hot Tub model, all of the components need to be ordered, cut and perhaps partially assembled. Perhaps a Quick Change Over for cutting tubes may need designing and implementing. So many small improvements are possible, and can have a significant effect. And when you start eliminating inventory, with implementation of a just in time supplier and supermarket system, the savings start to accumulate.
Performance measurement is very simple. By putting a White Board at the end of the assembly line, you list Takt Time in 30 minute increments as a target to shoot for. Actual Production (AP) is recorded at the end of every time period in a second column together with variance in a 3rd column. A final column records comments about defects and fixes. If Takt and AP are always the same, the system is not working. We don’t care about perfection. We care about identifying defects, problems and fixing them.
The Lean Implementation should move very quickly to non manufacturing functions. This is where a manufacturing Lean Employee will not generally create greater value. Yes, they can help with improving small processes. But generally, they will not see the whole. And in my experience, a six sigma belt isn’t very helpful. Their credential makes them the go to guy. In essence, management has elevated them to a fix it person with a very small improvement load. A colleague of mine explained a workplace (government run) with a 2 project annual goal for their belts. A Lean Coach is always on the clock, responding to and scheduling improvement requests. My Lean Sensei at my last CEO posting conducted 11 Kaikaku in 12 weeks. Why? Because we very early on identified a “hunger” for improvement. After years of a CEO who lived with the status quo and tried a variety of one off consultant fixes that always failed, the hungered for real fixes. And quite frankly, most of the fixes were not difficult ones initially. We identified them very quickly and strategically began addressing the most critical ones with the resources we had, and began scheduling for the ones that required a bit more set up.
But, you say, isn’t this going to cost me a lot? NO, NO, NO. When you learn to think differently you will realize that improving your processes will free up huge resources. With less time required to meet demand, and fewer defects, demand should increase and income improve. The Value Created by flow and elimination of waste will be significant. If you plan your inventory reduction and achieve it, you release a lot of cash tied up in inventory. You require less space for storage and can actually utilize it for increased manufacture and assembly. Your administrative processes achieve greater savings as you have less need to account for inventory and your procurement starts becoming served by a few, lean suppliers.
So when I see an HR recruitment for a Lean Manufacturing employee, I rarely see the commitment to a transformation of the culture. A first lean employee should be hired to work with a Lean Coach to start a Kaizen Promotion Office (whatever you call it) in the office of the CEO and available to everyone. The teaching, coaching and mentoring role should be very prominent. Performance measurement should be a function of the KPO, and the tone of the the advertisement is to identify problems, lead a team to fix them and implement standard work and training.
You are probably thinking that I have wandered off into Lean Speak. That’s true. The language of lean is foreign to most CEO’s and their staff. They think you can do Lean like you did TQM. They only want to budget and pay for a small amount because they don’t realize the huge benefit of Lean done right. A Value Adding HR department could engage a Lean Coach to talk with the leadership asking for the employee before recruiting in order to have a common understanding of what they are trying to achieve. That’s real Value Creation.
Happy employee searching.