Lean manufacturing and teams – Risks involved

Lean manufacturing is a team game. Every successful implementation of lean is backed by its excellent team working culture. Stronger the teams are stronger the results. It is a dream of any CEO to have a dynamic team with excellent talent. No doubt they can change your organization too. That is why team building is a hot topic these days. But I have faced scenarios where there are strong teams and all the people in those teams are excellent individuals and they are very dynamic yet the organization doesn’t achieve the desired results. I am sure you also might have come across teams like these. But interesting question is why this is happening?

Without any doubt teams are in the heart of lean manufacturing. But why sometimes they are successful and sometimes they are not? Something every organization must think about. So we will start from understanding the concept of team in lean context. In lean the team is a unit equipped and empowered to satisfy their internal or external customers. But as an organization all of it teams needs to align to cater its customer’s requirements. So from the eyes of the customer the organization is a single team.

Many people and managers build teams around departments of their interest. For an example they will work on building an excellent design team or a manufacturing team. Yes these are very good teams. But these teams if not aligned to the requirement of the organization can do more harm than good. In lean context this is known as sub optimization. For an example, the design team can come up with an excellent design but the manufacturing department will not be able to manufacture it. At the end organization dose not achieve anything from this exercise.

Lean manufacturing starts with its concepts and driven through leaders who live the values of the organization. The leadership must make sure all the teams are aligned to the requirement of the organization. All the teams must pull in the same direction the organization wants not in their own directions. Building teams without proper leadership and vision can lead to problems. So make sure your team building efforts are backed by solid leaders who understand requirements of your customers and live the vision of your organization.

Lean requires change, it also requires resources

Lean is demanding whether it is used in manufacturing context or in an office or in a service industry. Lean involves change and challenging the norms and continuously finding the ways of doing things more effectively and efficiently. But most of the times organizations forget about the resources required in these operations.

Lean manufacturing requires lots of resources. Among them main resource is the human resources. Lean will mean nothing without this important resource. Lean also requires time, lots of thinking, authority to do changes and monitor them. Having good people with lean thinking will mean only little when they are not empowered to act accordingly. This means giving people the required level of authority to carryout the changes and improvements, giving people the required tools to assist their actions and so on.

Most of the organizations do the mistake of not identifying the requirement of resources and they appoint set of people most of the times who are very good and enthusiastic about the lean. And they formed into teams and they identify the changes required for the lean transformations. In the implementation stages these bright set of people fail. They are not supported by their top management. They do not have the required authority to carryout the changes or the improvements they think which will be critical in lean transformation. The end result would be people getting frustrated and leaving the organization.

Lean manufacturing is about questioning, challenging and changing the traditional ways of working. But all these steps require resources. If you are an organization looking to be lean make sure you equip your lean efforts with correct tools and people and authority. Dedicate some of your time to lean and reserve some part of your brain to think about lean. This will make your lean efforts successful in long run.

Lean manufacturing and reduction of inventory – is it a result or a goal

Inventory and work in progress are words very closely associated with lean manufacturing. They are so closely associated with each other, some even use inventory reduction interchangeably with lean. Some also think we should get read of inventory from the system completely with any cost to make the system work effectively.

As I always stress, lean actually is commonsense manufacturing. Inventory is a very critical component in any manufacturing system and a part of the lean classification of its eight wastes. But removing one waste in the cost of another is not lean way of thinking. Any waste should be removed in a way where it will create value to the end customer and the organization. Inventory is not an exception. Reducing inventory at the cost of level production, continuous flow will not help the customer neither the organization.

In any organization WIP or the inventory is a reflection of the problems the system contains. Higher the WIP or the inventory in other forms problems will be hidden in it and system is not lean. When the problems are removed from the system the inventory level will go down automatically. Introduction of pull manufacturing systems, just in time manufacturing, make to order processing will in fact reduce the system inventory considerably.

So it is obvious that lean and inventory has a very closer relationship. But inventory reduction is not lean. Application of lean techniques will reduce inventory levels. So inventory is only an index which will show you how effective your lean implementation is. Trying to reduce the inventory levels without treating the causes will have a net negative effect on the system.

A lean thought – Go for the simpler not the perfect solution

In a mail I got recently it said “Go for the simpler not for the perfect solution”. This is perfect lean manufacturing oriented thinking. Most of the organizations will focus on finding solutions which will be perfect for their organization. This is fine. But in the process most of the people forget the usability of these ideas in day to day basis. This is the problem. Most of the perfect solutions require lots of attention, and resources to execute the solution. The solution might cost than the problem in the long run for the organization.

I in my job have seen many perfect solutions on board, but most of them have not succeeded in practice. There might be many reasons for the failure; a main reason is the complexity of the solution itself. In my informal studies on the reasons for failures I found some.

  1. People do not understand the problem correct – Most of the people involved in solving the problem are not affected by the problem and they hardly get the input from the people who are affected. Without understanding the problem correct there is no way one can define a solution for a problem.
  2. People do not go deep into the problem to find the solution – People just look at the problems on surface and they try to find solutions. Finding the root cause to the problem is one of the important lean manufacturing concepts. Without identifying the root cause the problem can not be solved but will be hidden.
  3. Solutions contain too many variables and options – Solutions are designed by the experts and they think the implementers and the day to day users are the same. So the solutions contain too many Ifs. Without saying this is how this should happen and if not stop, the solution will tell if this happen do this, else if do this, else if do this and it goes on. Solution will be perfect for a programmer not for a day to day user.
  4. Solving problems to satisfy one party involved not the system – Some solutions are designed to satisfy some of the parties involved and with a negative effect on other parties and a total negative effect on the organization. This is a result of sub optimization. These solutions have very little chance when it comes to implementation.

No solution should cost more than the problem it self by means of money, human resource and complexity it creates. I always use 80 to 20 rule in finding the balance. If the simplest and most effective solution can solve the 80% of the problem with only 20% of effort I will go for that. Generally fixing the rest 20% of the problem will require 80% additional effort and hence not an effective solution most of the times.

Think closely about the problem. Simple things work the best. Lean manufacturing always trust simplicity in thinking, executing and sustaining of the result.