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How to Become a Lean Champion

Lean tools and techniques can deliver lower costs, higher quality, and major improvements in customer service. But many companies struggle to achieve these benefits, even after years of trying.

Why is success so elusive? In many cases, lean approaches aren’t customized and applied consistently across plant networks or even a single location. Some efforts lose steam because they fail to engage and train enough employees to create sustainable results.

When companies do succeed at applying lean approaches to manufacturing, they often stop after achieving short-term success, instead of expanding their efforts more broadly to other areas of the business. There is often a lack of leadership, a failure to measure progress, insufficient communication, and a lack of synergy with overall business objectives.

These problems can be attributed to differing degrees of lean maturity.

  1. Learning the Basics. In this stage, companies focus on identifying and minimizing the seven sources of manufacturing waste: overprocessing, overproduction, motion, transportation, excess inventory, defects, and wait time. They might analyze their key processes looking for wasted effort or steps that don’t add value. Then, they apply lean practices to drive results. However, the work may be limited to selected areas in the manufacturing facility or small groups of employees.
  2. Implementing a Lean Production System. Companies at this stage are among the top players in their industry. They are moving toward an integrated lean production system that involves the whole manufacturing network and engagement of all employees in the effort. Common lean tools, principles, processes, and metrics are applied consistently across the manufacturing organization. The line organization is set up to support these, and leadership is actively engaged. At this level, lean efforts fund themselves and provide enough financial payback to offset the cost of implementation.
  3. Expanding Beyond Manufacturing. Only a few companies play in this top tier. They have started to expand their lean capabilities along the value stream, integrating supplies and customers to drive greater efficiency and further savings. Most extended lean efforts focus on administrative and service processes in which high overhead can hurt the bottom line. . Applying lean to nonmanufacturing areas can deliver impressive results, such as lead time reductions, productivity increases, and fewer errors.

Regardless of which stage of maturity a company is in, lean practitioners can continue to improve performance as they increase their expertise. Success in this journey often comes down to effective governance.

Lean & Manufacturing
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