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Common Lean Manufacturing Mistakes Your Company Needs to Avoid

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By Emilie A Lachance - December 02, 2019

One of the most highly advertised, discussed, and reviewed approaches to improving manufacturing performance is the application of “lean manufacturing” concepts and principles to a company’s operations. Nevertheless, although widely touted and used, actual on-the-ground data indicates a significant number of companies fail at successfully implementing lean. An Industry Week study found that almost 70% of all US plants used lean, but only 2 percent achieved their objectives and a further 24 percent achieved significant results.  

One reason for high failure rates is the difficulty of defining a “lean success.” For some analysts, any improvement counts as success. Others contend that success means companies meet their ROI goals, and still others say failure occurs when support for lean fades. Regardless of the precise definition, it is clear from the numbers that something is not right with the lean implementation approach. To realize the best results possible, companies should avoid the following five mistakes. 

1. Failure to secure top management support

Perhaps the biggest mistake a company can make is to rush into a lean program without laying the proper groundwork. Successful programs have the enthusiastic support of top management. Nothing stops a program quicker than employees realizing the efforts are not important to top management. 

2. Failure to create a company-wide culture of change

Growing out of this support is the cultivation of a widespread culture of change and participation. Building this culture is not a matter of training employees in lean but rather instilling a sense of personal involvement in the change process itself. Without this commitment to change along with top management’s support, lean programs become “someone else’s problem.”

3. Lack of a long-term strategy

Lean manufacturing is a long-term commitment to change and constant improvement. It is best to avoid thinking of a lean program as having an endpoint in the same way another program might. Successfully implementing lean manufacturing means changing the thinking of all employees to seek and make constant improvements. And improvements must focus on delivering increasing value to the customer. 

Companies embarking on a lean program should map out a long-term plan that assumes that the “program” will not end but will be revised as progress is made. A critical lean manufacturing principle is to keep the customer’s value proposition in mind at all times.

4. Considering lean a tool or technique rather than a way of thinking

At the center of lean manufacturing principles is the concept of creating greater and greater value for the customer. Too often, management and employees believe implementing lean means applying some cost reduction tool to improve productivity. Speeding up the production line with the thought of reducing costs may work, but it is not “lean.” Lean requires the placement of activities in a different order. In other words, the commitment to improving value for customers in a culture of change must come first. Then, based on analysis, changing line speeds may be an excellent step within a lean program.

5. Setting up a lean program office

Establishing a lean office, along with appointing a lead manager, may not be a good move for many companies. The creation of a formal program-like structure signals that the lean approach is a finite program with a beginning and an end. Further, appointing a lean manager puts all the responsibility onto the shoulders of the manager and takes it off the shoulders of employees. Soon, the organization ceases to feel any responsibility for making the changes necessary and leave it up to the designated lean office.

6. Establishing conflicting or non-customer-focused metrics 

Metrics should be established to monitor the effectiveness of lean activities and demonstrate the progress of work toward adding value for the customer. KPIs for one department that only look good at the expense of another department work at cross purposes with lean efforts. 

In general, company-wide KPIs should present a picture of company performance targeting the lean principle of adding value for the customer. The result is improved performance and customer satisfaction.

Worximity, a provider of Smart Factory Analytics, can provide in-depth knowledge and proven experience to any company wanting to implement lean manufacturing. Selecting from a full suite of real-time data capture and analysis tools, Worximity uses on-line sensors to capture production data, which is then transmitted wirelessly to its Smart Factory Analytics software. Then, the instantaneous analysis yields performance KPIs, which are presented on in-factory dashboards or TileBoards. Because this performance data (such as downtime, OEE, and run speeds) is shown in real time, employees can take corrective action if performance begins to suffer. Worximity software, which can be implemented in as little as one day, is reasonably priced and is currently available for demo at Worximity’s website

Lean is a total, company-wide commitment focused on improving the entire value proposition for the customer. Successful implementation of lean requires the active participation of all employees and the acknowledgment that the “process” of lean does not end.  

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