Lean manufacturing consultants or go it alone?

Paul V. Arnold

As the editor of Reliable Plant and its Lean Manufacturing Journal, I am frequently asked by readers, “Can our company (or plant) implement a lean manufacturing program by ourselves, or do we need to use lean manufacturing consultants to get us where we want and need to be? We can read lean books and create a program, right?”


In my personal view, it is wise to go with the option of lean manufacturing consultants.


Here are three reasons why:


1)      Experience and background: You can read a couple of books on dentistry, but does that make qualified to be a dentist? Individuals and teams from lean consulting companies have substantial backgrounds in lean and Six Sigma methods. Generally, that background has come from a sizeable amount of training and then several years running plant or company lean programs at large manufacturing firms. Many of the lean consultants I know cut their teeth by running plant lean programs at companies such as Toyota, General Electric, Honeywell and Boeing. I’d feel more comfortable having the foundation laid by someone with training and a history of lean success in his or her pocket.

2)      Fresh perspective: When you’ve lived without lean, it is hard to separate the waste from the good stuff. Think about your attic or your garage or your basement. To you, everything is necessary. Everything is of value. Everything is in its place. But then you go visit a friend’s home and see their attic/garage/basement. “What a mess! What a bunch of junk!” is the normal reply. A lean manufacturing consultant comes in with a fresh perspective and a fresh set of eyes. He or she has no preconceived notions. Waste is viewed for what it is … waste. Disorder is identified for what it is … disorder. Opportunities are viewed for what they are … opportunities.

3)      You mean business: One reason why internally created lean programs fail more often than they succeed is because employees view them simply as “the flavor of the day”. “The boss read a book on lean and now wants to start a lean program. Remember a few years ago when Jenkins read that book on TPM and tried to get that going here? That didn’t last long.” If you have a workforce that is resistant to change, they will remember the dead programs of supervisors past and ride this one (and you) out. When lean manufacturing consultants are brought in to start a lean program, there isn’t that history to fall back on. It sends the message that “we mean business on this.” Consultants also generally can spot the roadblocks (those buy-in issues) and know how to avoid them.


These are my viewpoints, taken from more than a decade of seeing lean in action at plants around the country. I’d like to hear your views on this or other lean subjects.

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