6 Ways to Get Lean in 2016

Mandy Savage

Maybe you've loosened the belt a notch or two over the years. Inch by inch the borders around the waist have gotten a little wider. Bad habits have formed. An unhealthy diet creating large amounts of waste is clogging the main arteries. Things are noticeably slower. Let's admit it. You know you could do better. It's time your workplace went on a lean diet and turned it into a work style.

Look around your workplace for the following to identify what areas need some TLC. It's a new year, a fresh slate, and it's time to lean up.

Follow the Motion

Are workers having to walk around to look for tools, parts or people? If there is a system in place, does it work and is everyone adhering to it? The 5-S program, born out of 1940s Japanese manufacturing lines, is a brilliantly simple system that will improve productivity in your workplace. Through organization, identification, maintenance and sustainability, the system is not just a process but a cultural way of thinking focused on efficiency.

Dr. Gwendolyn Galsworth, a leading expert in visual workplace training, said one of the leading indicators for whether an environment is efficient is motion.

"I look for motion when I go into a plant," she added. "Motion leads you to answers … I look at changeovers (and) lead time."

When inefficient motion happens, it reveals a lot about the health of an environment.

Prevent the Waiting Game

The opposite of motion is people, orders or things in general sitting idle. Clock watchers or complaints about not having enough work to keep busy while waiting for other departments to fulfill their tasks are prime identifiers of wasted time and energy. When management and executives take regularly scheduled gemba walks to see firsthand what is happening in the plant or the warehouse, they can physically observe how time is spent. Are people waiting for approvals, materials, information or repairs? Lean practices encourage managers to go on a gemba walk at least once a week to see what is going on in various departments.

Find Defects

Design errors, material flaws or inspection errors can be greatly reduced when implementing Kanban, which is another Japanese-influenced pull system that maximizes efficiency in getting products to and from the assembly line. Look for ways to standardize tasks. There is usually a best way to perform a task most efficiently that minimizes defects, wasted materials and motion. This standardized task should be recorded and used in training.

Once standard tasks have been developed, the amount of time and materials required is established. Lead times become the yardstick for measuring efficiency at this point. Staffing and material flows should be balanced so workers have to do minimal walking, waiting or material handling.

Refine Metrics

Now that lead times have become a measuring tool, how else can this become more precise? How do orders come in and go out? How long do orders sit in their holding area? A wire molding company in Connecticut transformed its holding time for orders from one day to just three hours through the implementation of lean techniques. The financial impact this can have on a company may be incredible. 

Assess Layout

Among the first things to look for in a plant are the lines on the floor access. Are there smart borders? Is the width of the floor marking for forklift and storage being maximized? Departments, work areas and storage areas should be designed for quick and easy access for workers. Streamlining material and inventory flow will minimize walking, transportation costs and holding times.

Apply the Tools

How do you begin to apply lean tools? If you haven't played soccer, do you purchase a ball, all the gear, read the rules and then expect to play like Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi? You need to have realistic expectations. A total team commitment is required for a lean transformation, which will lead to a cultural change in your workplace. Is your workplace mature enough to begin this change? Are they receptive to it? Once you commit to your lean journey, you'll see measurable results.

Always look for ways to improve and resources to help you in this transformation. You've taken the first step in the lean direction.

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