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Beyond Lean

The Human Side of Lean – What does it take?

By Kevin Smith, Project Manager, MassMEP, [email protected]

Many manufacturing companies today are reaching for ways to improve and strengthen their competitiveness and financial performance in unfavorable economic times. Lean manufacturing methodologies contain many solutions for doing so, and many companies are embarking on the road to lean. They learn about and start implementing the lean building blocks: workplace organization and housekeeping (5S), batch reduction, standardized work, quick changeover, cellular flow, and pull/kanban to name a few.

But in the course of implementing these lean tools, manufacturers often discover that the hardest part is not the “technical” aspect of lean, but rather the human side of lean. The inability to effectively listen to each other, interacting without causing defensiveness, making consensus decisions, resolving problems and conflicts, working in teams, or even having a productive meeting, all get in the way of creating and sustaining positive lean outcomes.

Prior to and/or in conjunction with rolling out specific training or lean initiatives that are aimed at improving your business, you need to ensure that your leaders and team members are equipped with fundamental communication and collaboration skills. The Massachussetts MEP offers training workshops that teach these essential skills: Team Involvement Problem Solving (TIPS), Building A Successful Lean Team, and Leader Effectiveness Training (L.E.T.).

Team Involvement Problem Solving (TIPS) provides practical skills for solving problems in a cross functional team approach, and has been designed to allow for participation of both management and shop floor employees. It teaches an eight step, structured, root cause oriented approach to permanently resolving problems. Other skills and techniques taught include creative idea generation (divergent thinking), consensus decision making (convergent thinking), and interactive skills for effective problem solving meetings. The highlight of the workshop involves an afternoon of simulated team based problem solving providing an opportunity for all to practice what they’ve learned.

Building A Successful Lean Team provides participants with the knowledge and facilitation techniques for incorporating and nurturing the nine characteristics of highly successful work teams. The nine characteristics help insure that your teams are all headed in the same direction, operating under the same set of rules, accomplishing their goals, correcting problems, and staying motivated.

Leader Effectiveness Training (L.E.T.) provides a research based model of effective leadership created by the noted psychologist, Dr. Thomas Gordon. It teaches a participative approach for leading and working with people, and, most importantly, a set of collaborative communication skills that enable participants to put the model into action. It works in your relationships at home, too!

All of the skills taught in these workshops enable people to work together more effectively as they pursue the implementation of lean manufacturing. A mentor of mine, Dr. Bud Upshaw, once wrote, “It is people who make organizational systems work, people who affect and drive change, people who shape business outcomes when differences and conflicts arise, people who work to insure high performance and top quality.”

Don’t ignore the importance of the human side of lean and developing real collaboration skills in your people. That’s what it takes!


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