Getting Started with Lean

Where and how should I start to implement Lean?

In deciding where to start your lean implementation, you first need to work out “Why” you need to implement lean. The driver could be delivery, lead times, quality, cost or a combination of all of these. Your lean program should be customized to address these issues.

If you embark on a “lean training” course for all your staff, attempt to train “Lean Six Sigma Black Belts” who are tasked with driving improvement or “focus on stability first” with lots of 5S and Visual Management, you are unlikely to achieve long lasting results. The problem with these approaches is that after a year or more you have committed lots of time but the core problems facing the business will not have improved.

At TXM, we suggest a direct approach. Firstly, ask the question: “What are your core business issues?” Secondly, “what is the most important product stream (value stream) that is impacted by these issues?” We will then start by mapping this value stream using our “Manufacturing Agility Process®” (MAP). This process will highlight the root causes of your problems and help your team develop a solution and an action plan to address this issue. This action plan should target actions that can be achieved in a maximum 6-9 months. This short time frame ensures that the team selects goals and actions that are realistic and achievable given the resources available. Once the implementation is underway in the first value stream, then it is relatively straightforward to extend it to other value streams. Furthermore, as the improvements start to take shape, problems will diminish and this will give front line leaders more time to implement further improvements, establishing a “virtuous cycle”.

Our experienced lean consultants will be happy to arrange an initial consultation with you to discuss the best way to begin your Lean journey. If you prefer to do a bit more research first, you could start by reading some good Lean books. Our list of recommended lean books is a good place to start, as is our principal consultant, Tim McLean’s recent publication “Grow Your Factory, Grow Your Profits: Lean for Small and Medium-Sized Manufacturing Enterprises”. Once you feel ready to take the first step – our Lean gurus are just an email or phone call away…

Starting Lean at Small or Medium Sized Enterprise

From Grow Your Factory, Grow Your Profits: Lean for Small and Medium-Sized Manufacturing Enterprises” by Tim McLean, Productivity Press, 2014

Many people ask us when their business should start implementing lean and how they can get started. A lot of trainers and consultants in the industry will tell you that the best approach is to start implementing lean right away and doing so across the entire organization, utilizing a business wide, top down, roll-out program.

You may also assume that since there are so many Lean courses around and in some countries (such as Australia) there are very generous government subsidies available, that it’s best to choose a training provider and sign your team up for a course. At TXM, we know from experience that both of these ways of going about starting your lean journey are not usually the best answers for businesses.

When should I start to implement lean?

When we talk about implementing Lean we are normally talking about minimizing waste by establishing robust and efficient business processes, standardizing every-day tasks and developing the skills to solve problems in order to continuously learn and improve. The ideal way to do this is to consider these factors right from the start of your business. However, this is not always possible for small and start-up businesses due to the limited resources available and often the primary focus is on developing and perfecting your product, and then marketing and selling that product to your target market.

This means that you start out with little in the way of formal business processes and are operating with only a small number of people who are responsible for multiple roles in the business. Rather than focusing internally on business processes it is usually better at this point in the business cycle to focus on your business strategy, marketing and growth first. No matter how good your business processes are, if you are not focused on these elements of your business, you won’t have a business.

As a business owner or manager, at a certain point in the growth of your business you will start to feel the complexity of your organization grow and discover that you can no longer do everything yourself. At this point your first instinct may be to add more overheads (supervisors and managers) and to attempt to “automate” processes using better business management software. Unfortunately, unless you improve your business processes first, new managers and software will simply add more cost and complexity without solving your underlying problems.  Often businesses this size find that poor business processes are actually limiting their growth.

A lot of businesses never get beyond this stage. They plateau at around this level of sales, occasionally growing and then shrinking again when their poor process and lack of innovation results in customers looking elsewhere. A lot of businesses will then find themselves in serious financial difficulty as high overheads, poor processes and (in most cases) excessive inventory and working capital mean that they cannot withstand a fall in sales and rapidly run out of cash.

At this point in the business cycle, our earlier comment above is reversed. It doesn’t matter how good your product and marketing is, if you can’t deliver it to the customer on time, on quality and at a competitive cost you won’t have a business.

At TXM, we have never seen a business where the processes were too bad to start making improvements right away. However, if you do plan to make significant changes to the key line leadership roles (such as hiring a new Plant Manager), then it is better to wait until the new staff member is in place before starting your Lean program. This will then give the new manager the opportunity to be engaged in the program from the outset.

In smaller organizations, it is also important not to take on too many major projects at the same time. Usually management can handle one or two key projects at once, but once the load gets beyond this, they tend to lose focus and there can be disastrous results. We suggest placing Lean high up on your priority list, as it is likely that it will have a greater business impact than any other operational project you are considering and help you understand what your business really needs.