Many lean manufacturing tools such as continuous flow, cycle time, visual factory and Kaizen workshops can add dollars to the bottom line when applied effectively. These tools are the direct application of lean principles and can be used in a straightforward manner. Why then do many processors struggle to gain the benefits of lean manufacturing?
Often companies struggle because lean manufacturing techniques are more than tools in a toolbox. Lean manufacturing is also a way of thinking. It only works when attitudes and thoughts are consistent with the principles of lean manufacturing. Leadership is extremely important to thinking, acting and sustaining the lean manufacturing philosophy.
Initially, executive leadership must visibly participate in the process of adopting and implementing a concept that is foreign to many. By saying, "‘We are going to implement lean manufacturing’" is not nearly enough to shift the tide of thinking that is vital to successfully becoming a lean business. Visibly participating in the process means executives must demonstrate lean thinking in their daily actions.
Just as important, executives must be willing to don hard hats and smocks to actively participate in a plant’s routines. Executives or owners should be in the plants on a weekly basis when lean principles are first coming out of the chute. Executives who participate in the initial phases of lean training demonstrate they are willing to learn and want to hear exactly what their managers and supervisors are hearing and practicing.
Executives also should engage team leaders and managers in the plant setting. They should find out if the training has transferred into the plant. If not, they need to take immediate steps to motivate plant supervision to encourage and practice lean thinking.
Most processing facilities have several lines, so it is important to make a purposeful selection of one or two lines to start lean practices. Starting small gives a company the opportunity to focus its resources and adjust as needed. More importantly, small gains can be used to generalize lean principles to other lines in the plant. Eventually, as lean thinking proves itself and the plant is reducing waste and gaining profit, the principles will become more fully accepted and easier to implement.
Even small lean initiatives require a baseline, measurement and adjustment. These steps can be met with resistance. When implementing lean manufacturing, it is common to hear employees say ‘We never did it like that before.’ Resisting change is human nature. If a facility starts small, the executives and managers can more easily follow up and adjust for success. A small but noticeable change can lead to more change.
Lean manufacturing cannot catch on without measurement integrity. The results of measuring impact is not a competition between employees or between supervisors. If it becomes a contest, beware. Lean manufacturing is about waste reduction throughout a company. The only competition to consider exist within the same industry, not the same plant
In a plant the measurement competition must be to reduce waste from the best baseline. That type of measurement requires integrity. One way to enhance integrity is to check consistency in the early stages and then make the numbers and graphs available for everyone to see. Transparency and visibility are great leadership principles for maintaining and using metrics effectively. Some companies post production numbers and graphs not only in the plant but also in the cafeteria and break room. That kind of visibility gets positive attention.
Incentive systems must also support the lean principles. Lean tools and principles are focused on companywide waste reduction and improving profit margin. Given this focus it pays to implement profit sharing in a company applying lean manufacturing. Overall profit will improve with each reduction in wasteful systems or practices. While some of these changes will be small, others will be significant.
However, overall waste reduction is the key. Because lean principles focuses on eliminating waste, and waste reduction increases profit, profit sharing systemwide reinforces the type of diligence and perseverance needed to sustain lean implementation and innovation.
Additionally, the biggest returns on lean initiatives will usually come from addressing wasted motion, stock or waiting between sections. Calls from customers requesting more products reflect the need for improving flow between office orders, perishable inventory and processing. Waste of motion and inventory also may continue when the food is boxed but awaits a truck or a shipping destination. Both of these common situations point toward cooperation and communication between working groups. The leadership wisdom here is not to set up barriers by having incentive programs encouraging competition. Instead strive for cooperation in the overall reduction of waste.