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Not Just Another Short Term Project

By Mike Prior, Senior Project Manager, MassMEP, [email protected]

"Lean" has become the mantra for many companies these days where the introduction of various lean concepts, methodologies, and approaches to improving processes has taken their organizations to new levels. The manufacturing world has especially become more focused on this due to increases in competition, both foreign and domestic. Manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to reduce waste and improve their productivity so they can not only improve their bottom line, but sustain and hopefully build on what they currently have for market share. As a result, many "Lean Programs" have been developed with a variety of results.

Approaches to implementing lean numerous. Lean is oftentimes confused with simple firefighting approaches to problem solving where the crisis of the day is addressed, sometimes documented, and hopefully prevented from returning by infusing a policy or procedure. Lean might be introduced to an organization via an edict from top management whereby costs need to be reduced via a short term streamlining of processes. A lean program might also be introduced, and oftentimes owned, by an individual within the company who has previous experience with or read about lean. Unfortunately, these approaches rarely work nor sustain themselves. This is why they are often referred to as "drive-by kaizens" where the process for continuous improvement is just another program that has a beginning and an end.

Let’s make sure everyone is clear. Lean is a continuous process for improvement where responsibilities are assigned and proven methodologies are introduced and sustained. Proper training for employees is key so that people will understand what lean is and will not view it as someone else’s project. The main issue here is simply that a company must have a plan and a structured approach within the organization to address lean and the improvements it can generate.

Many companies have, in fact, introduced lean into their organizations with the mindset that it will be part of the culture by which the company operates. The plan is driven from top management down through the supply chain, which is a necessity for any implementation whether it be lean, or a Quality Management or ERP system. A culture, to be more specific a new way of doing business, needs to be created which is often difficult. We are all creatures of habit and habits are tough to break. Companies that have been successful in implementing Lean into their organizations have invested time and capital, and have solicited a commitment on the part of all employees to insure that Lean is not just another program. Lean must be a process that is embedded in the organization. Employee training, the proper facilitation of this training, and an ongoing measurement of process and progress ensures results and a significant return on that investment.

This is the true challenge that companies face and it is the only true way to keep a Lean Process from being a short-term project.


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