Principles of Lean: Beyond the Shop Floor – May Meeting Recap

By MAMTC on May 18, 2016

May’s Kansas City Manufacturing Network (KCMN) meeting featured a panel of manufacturing professionals, who shared their best practices for expanding Lean concepts to processes and services, and not just on the production floor.  The panel was led by Joe Torrago, Project Manager for MAMTC, who has helped Kansas-based organizations achieve their growth plans since coming on board with MAMTC in early 2015, and has led Lean implementation in 3 companies and 2 countries.  Joe noted that a current project he is working on with a local municipality was helping to streamline the permitting process, as the existing process was eliminating wasteful steps that did not add value to the process.

Talli Denney, Retail Technology Director, Sally Luck, Director of Corporate Services, and Mark Pettit, Corporate Services Manager, Hallmark Cards, Inc. discussed Hallmark’s transition from Lean in plant operations, to a broader tool for all areas of the business.  The ultimate driver for their Lean initiative was to help determine if services and processes were adding value to the customer.  For example, help desk functions were being considered for outsourcing.  However, with the implementation of Lean problem solving tools, help desk employees became empowered to add value by seeking solutions to common problems, thus eliminating or reducing issues that increased call volume. This led to increased customer satisfaction, as well as cost savings for the company.

The panelists noted that Hallmark’s creation of Lean coaches helps to sustain the Lean efforts, and also had the benefit of creating new challenges and development opportunities for those who are coaches, which boosts morale in an environment where not everyone can earn a promotion.  Another key to success of Lean efforts was changing the culture where it became OK to challenge management, to point out problems, and have a hand in creating solutions.  This change created momentum for the company’s Lean efforts, as empowered employees worked to solve problems using the Lean tools.

Additionally, the complaint that people don’t have time to devote to Lean efforts can be overcome by taking small bite sized efforts – 30 minutes a day, and over time the participants can see that the Lean efforts actually result in time savings as wasteful processes are eliminated or changed.

Thomas Dunbar, Mechanical Level Production Supervisor, SOR, Inc. discussed the success he has had with expanding the concept of Lean beyond just seeing it as a tool to solve problems.  SOR holds Kaizen events not just to discuss problems, but to also discuss what is working well, and how that success can be built on in other areas. Thomas noted that there were those who saw the efforts in a negative light, and that early on, it’s important to start with some ‘quick wins’ that are more visible – employees won’t always buy in to benefits they can’t see, which is more common in an office environment where work is less visible than in production.  He also noted the importance of building a Lean team that has multiple perspectives – sales, purchasing, accounting, etc, so that the issues are viewed from different problem solving angles.  Finally, he noted that when looking to prioritize issues, choosing the laziest person you know can help bring problems to light, as the things they are complaining about most are likely also the most in need of improvement.

Among the takeaways noted by the panelists:

  • Seek opportunities to benchmark performance measures and differentiate between value added and non value added activities.
  • Don’t get caught up in terminology – using common terms instead of some of the ‘Lean’ terms removes some of the mystique around Lean and makes it more accessible.
  • Creating Lean champions, or inside experts is key to creating and building on momentum.
  • Find ways to celebrate wins, and recognize the people who contribute to gains and efforts.
  • Understand that there will always be naysayers, or those who don’t buy in completely.  Try to focus some effort to make the complainers part of the process, but don’t let managing them bog you down
  • Remember that value is determined by the customer, that the ultimate goal of any Lean effort is to improve the customer experience.