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Lean Manufacturing - Avoiding the Pitfalls

Published 19 February 2014, from Thornley Group

What is Lean?  Although a common question 8 years ago it is less common now.  As more people are exposed to the basic concepts of Lean the questions are getting a bit more complex such as ‘How do I implement Lean?’ or ‘Which process should I change first?’  

For those of you who are still asking the first question, a simple answer is: 

Lean - Eliminating waste from processes, improving the flow of value and engaging people in problem solving.  It is NOT reducing headcount, cost cutting and outsourcing! 

I have written many articles on Lean and I could carry on writing them for years and still not cover the whole subject but in principle Lean is a simple as the above statement.  How we make it happen is the complex bit. 

What can Lean Manufacturing do for New Zealand Ltd?  Well we only have to look around the world to see that there are plenty of examples of the benefits.  We can start with the Toyota Production System (TPS) as an obvious example.  Toyota are a large international family-run organisation with a very unique culture.  They are Lean because that is who they are and where the term ‘Lean’ comes from.  When we try and implement Lean Manufacturing we are trying to copy what Toyota have been developing for half a century.  So don’t expect it to be easy. 

For every success in Lean there is a failure to go with it.  If Lean is so simple an idea in principle why do some organisations fail to make it happen? 

Five common mistakes when implementing Lean: 

  1. Thinking that Lean is just 5S. 
    A senior manager at a manufacturing plant in Auckland told me that he had visited Holden in Australia and was amazed by their Lean Manufacturing.  He saw the clean workplace and believed that was the extent of Lean.  5S (organising the workplace) is important but it is only one of many tools and will not make you a Lean Manufacturer.

  2. Reading a book on Lean and assuming you can do it by yourself.
    Reading about Lean is very helpful but the biggest hurdles in Lean Manufacturing aren’t about the theory.  Changing the way employees think and dealing with the barriers can be hard and it is easy to fail without experience of what is good and bad practice.

  3. Believing that you can only learn from people in your industry.
    If I am moving an application form through a mortgage process or moving timber in a factory, the Lean solutions are the same.  There is a common mistaken belief that each industry is somehow unique when it comes to Lean.  If this was true then nobody outside of the car industry would have implemented Lean!

  4. Not checking the credentials of consultants and trainers.
    In 8 years of providing services to New Zealand organisations I have not once been asked to verify my credentials.  Now it is great that I have a trustworthy face and I can talk the right talk but is that a basis for accepting my advice?  If you use an accountant or a lawyer do you assume that they are qualified? 

  5. Senior managers delegate Lean implementation
    Lean involves a cross-organisational change process that fundamentally alters the way we do business.  Who should be leading this?  If you are in the position of having Lean delegated to you then consider negotiating the scope of your role.

Best practice comes from experience and knowledge.  Before you embark on a Lean implementation make sure that you are following a process that starts not just with tools but with an understanding of how your people need to be involved.  Dragging some consultant in to ‘5S’ you for a day will just leave people bemused.

If you would like to know more about Lean then visit the Thornley Group website.  We have a new Lean Six Sigma forum designed for the NZ Lean and/or Six Sigma community where you can ask questions, provide advice or squabble over best practice. 

Thornley Group provide a range of advice and training services including a new Online Lean Training option for smaller organisations and people who can’t take the time out to attend organised study.  The video-based training is accessible, entertaining and informative.  Enough to get you on your way to gaining the benefits of Lean with the added support from the Lean Six Sigma Forum. 

Melvyn Thornley
Managing Director
Thornley Group