Your essential guide to lean success

June 21st 2011 POSTED BY: leanpal

Lean is made up of a plethora of complex theories. WM offers a handy reference guide to the kaizen team and how to employ them to ensure continuous improvement success at your site

Max Gosney Editor of Works Management Magazine kindly gave me permission to post this article on the Leanpal  blog. 
Seven secrets to lean success
Lean, kaizen, continuous improvement- the pursuit of making your factory a more efficient and productive outfit goes by many names. But some golden rules ring true whatever your definition. WM gives the lowdown on seven top habits of lean success. Also, see the panel below for a lighthearted look at the key members of the lean team.

1 People power
'Died due to lack of staff support.' The words could be etched on the tombstones of many a failed lean initiative.

Popular backing will catapult a continuous improvement scheme into an unstoppable force. But resistance will quash it like a poison. Winning over your workforce is about empowerment, says Terry Carmichael, who led a lean programme at Thorn Lighting's Spennymoor site that helped the company win top prize at the Best Factory Awards in 2008.

"We insist on the involvement of our workforce in our improvement programme... It was traditional for our engineers to design our production lines, give them to operators and say get on with it. Now our people design their own work stations."

The simple change has reinvigorated the workforce, adds Carmichael. "The motivation of our people is fantastic because they really feel they've made a difference."

But, it's not just shopfloor support that holds sway over improvement bids, according to Mark Colvin of lean consultancy Leanpal. "For me, the absolute key is making sure senior management are behind the programme. That means not just committed through words but deeds as well." A stop-start approach fuels cynicism in workers, as factory managers at the recent Best Factory Conference were quick to testify. Continuous improvement programmes become branded as just another fleeting management initiative and are hamstrung by the burdens of past failures..

2 Tackling resistance
Cavemen, citizens against virtually everything, type Cs... Whatever their tag, the anti-change element of your workforce needs to be tackled if lean is to thrive. "We had those we described as cavemen who stood against everything," explains Carmichael. "Because we won the people over by talking about morale and we had some impressive results, the cavemen either changed or left."

Overcoming the resistance is about waging a tactical battle, says Carmichael: "Nobody likes to feel like they can't perform in the environment provided. It makes them feel, in their own words, inadequate. The other thing is when the rest of the organisation starts to rebel and peer pressure takes over."

Manufacturers can also look to avoid creating the breeding ground for saboteurs, according to Colvin. "Lean can often be perceived as all about redundancy. I've worked with companies which, if they need to make redundancies, do so before beginning the lean programme. That way you are working with staff who know they are part of the future and can get behind the ideas."

3 Make the time
Toyota – widely regarded as the godfather of modern lean manufacturing – puts good continuous improvement down to one thing. "The difference between success and failure is time," says Tony Wallis, operations director at the manufacturing giant's UK forklift business, Toyota Material Handling. "We create the time for our people and our leaders to give us continuous improvement. When I see it fail, it's because it's become flavour of the month... People don't allow the time for the leaders in their team to give input."

4 Suggestion schemes
Staff suggestion schemes are a gold mine for continuous improvement. Yet this cheap and simple source of lean ideas is often ignored by UK manufacturers. One company that's capitalised from the concept is boiler manufacturer Vaillant. The company delivered efficiency gains worth nearly £600,000 in one year through implementing suggestions, explains Allan Harley, improvement manager. "We use a pre-treatment to clean the metal on our boilers... with between one and half and two million parts, that means a massive volume of water. Two individuals at our Belper plant suggested we recycle it, run a filter system, and get rid of the water every three months instead of every time we used it."

Cynics will point out that enthusiasm for suggestion schemes, like lean itself, can falter after early gains. Vaillant, though, has proofed its scheme so the kaizen production line keeps on flowing. Harley says: "From the suggestion scheme we will generate kaizen blitz or kaizen weeks. Contributors get a cash reward based on what we've saved. But just for taking part we organise prize draws where you could win a weekend away or an iPod."

5 Leadership
A great leader can inspire staff to walk through walls to deliver improvements. A bad one will antagonise workers and stir them only to sabotage anything the boss might get rewarded for. The difference is all about vision, communication, trust and recognition, according to lean experts.

A common misconception is that leaders must be dominant characters often seen booming out instructions on the shopfloor. In fact good leadership is a subtle art, says Carmichael. "If you want people to build a ship don't ask them to collect wood and nails, just inspire in them a desire to sail the seas and the rest will happen by itself."

The best team leaders set a vision, help the team understand the goal and coach performance in key areas, says Dennis McCarthy of DAK Consulting. Regular performance feedback is a must, with staff encouraged to assess their own skills rather than be given a static lecture. Carmichael adds: "Catch people doings things well and reward them rather than catching people doing things badly and take other measures."

Once you have honed your team's skills , unleash the ultimate motivational tool – put individuals in charge of a key project and give them a pat on the back for success.

Opportunities to lead projects and win praise from managers are significantly more effective motivational tools than pay rises or cash bonuses, according to a 2009 survey by the McKinsey business journal. Crack the art of delegation and you won't have a single leader but a powerful raft of lieutenants championing your lean agenda.

6 Set a vision
Without a clear target to aim for, you will always be subsumed by dealing with the daily grind. The vision should be a compass for business activities, according to Toyota's Tony Wallis and Thorn Lighting's Terry Carmichael.

The targets should be filtered down through your organisation through Hoshin planning (see box, p18). Pinning your raison d'être up somewhere where everyone will see it is also a top tip.

7 Go to the source
If you can't see the problem, then you can never hope to find the solution – the 'go and see' or Genchi Genbutsu principle is a key pillar of the Toyota Production System.

"Any leader in any organisation that doesn't go to the source of the problem doesn't understand what needs to be put right," says Wallis. "We very clearly drive Genchi Genbutsu... If you watch and understand and talk to the team, you will understand what the problem is."

team kaizen

Name: Kanban
What is it: A signalling system used to regulate the supply and demand of materials in a production process. Kanban is the conductor-in-chief of manufacturing telling you what to make, when and to what quantity.
Strengths: Universally applicable, can drastically reduce stockholding, cuts waste, aids just in time (JIT) delivery
Weaknesses: Inflexibility – dramatic spikes in demand or the influx of new orders can upset the kanban
Kaizen rating: 8/10 A proven player in any successful lean manufacturing bid

Name: Hoshin planning
What is it: A process of goal setting where the business sets an overall target and gears staff towards hitting it via defined performance objectives.
Strengths: Gives a sense of purpose and direction, helps you diversify from competitors, powerful tool for enhancing staff performance, can help you navigate business risks
Weaknesses: A slow burner, goal setting involves staff feedback and fine tuning objectives can take several years. The process of strategic planning is also a diary drain and involves lots of away days.
Kaizen rating: 9/10 Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Name: Poke yoke
What is it: The art of mistake proofing, poke yoke encourages staff to seek out and eliminate any flaws in work processes and products. Poke yoke inspired inventions include circuit breakers and locks that stop you taking the car keys out until the car is in neutral.
Strengths: boosts product safety, improves workstation design, low resource tool
Weaknesses: staff may be reluctant to admit errors
Kaizen rating: 8/10 A powerful self assessment technique that can weed out costly oversights

Name: Total productive maintenance (TPM)
What is it: TPM aims to involve all parts of an organisation in ensuring the effectiveness of production equipment and banishing time lost to breakdowns and stoppages.
Strengths: Allows you to make more and sell more, prevents costly downtime
Weaknesses: Takes a lot of time and resource as you're involving all areas of the business
Kaizen rating: 8/10 Prevention is better than cure

Name: 5S
What is it: The five Japanese words starting with S can be translated as: sort, straighten, shine/sweep, standardise and sustain. 5S ensures a clutter-free, optimum, working environment that leads to happier, more productive people, according to the theory.
Strengths: Productivity gains with less time hunting for parts, cleaner and safer environments increase product quality, and boosts morale.
Weaknesses: Can be difficult to quantify the gains as 5S offers a series of small improvements, heavy staff training
Kaizen rating: 9/10 5S can help you clean up on continuous improvement

Name: Value stream mapping
What is it: A diagram of the physical and information flows that contribute to a production process. The map highlights the value adding steps needed to produce the final goods.
Strengths: Allows a quick and easy reference point for strengths and weaknesses in the production cycle. Focuses staff on adding value and encourage employees to think outside of their own department. Value Stream mapping is highly versatile and can be used in back offices as well as on the shopfloor.
Weaknesses: Requires a lot of time to set up and extra training may be needed to help staff get to grips with the graphics.
Kaizen rating: 8/10 Steer the shortest path to improvement

Name: Six Sigma
What is it: A data-driven methodology that strives to remove variability and defects from manufacturing processes. Six Sigma borrows from martial arts disciplines by introducing expert green and black belts to further teachings.
Strengths: Highly effective problem solver, reduces defects, cuts waste
Weaknesses: Time consuming and requires heavy staff training, highly advanced and can be like using a sledgehammer to a crack a nut in some businesses, say lean advisors.
Kaizen rating: 8/10 The big gun of the kaizen team – best handled
with care

Want to become a continuous improvement king? Join WM's new CIN network: share valuable experiences with your peers and have an expert guide to help steer your successful lean journey. Contact
Richard Henley on 01322 221144 or email
Max Gosney    
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