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We use Lean Tools. Now What?

by Andrew Milivojevich, P.Eng., M.Sc. ASQ Fellow

A fundamental problem most organizations face when approaching lean is understanding there are two elements of waste that affect the value chain: technological and behavioural forces. These forces cause the operating efficiency of any value chain to suffer.

Technological forces affect efficiency and effectiveness of all resources used in the production of output versus the cultural attributes of an organization that define our beliefs and foster behaviours that tolerate waste. Any organization hoping to improve operating efficiency using Lean must consider integrating both “Lean Tools” and “Lean Thinking.” Lean Tools are used to address the technological problems that affect a value chain while lean thinking addresses the behavioural readiness of the organization to help management establish and prepare the organization to embrace a culture of efficiency.

On the road to becoming a lean organization, waste is eliminated through people. So it’s important that people are knowledgeable about the tools and how to apply them throughout the value chain. This is why a systematic approach to the deployment of Lean is important. Often the production demands do not leave enough time to eliminate waste throughout the value chain. Projects must be deployed using available resources to optimizing project success, boast the morale and turn the cultural tide in the right direction. Lean Tools and Lean Thinking can help organizations better manage machines, materials and employees.

So what is Lean Thinking? There are five principles:

  1. Identify Customers and Specify Value. The starting point is to recognize that only a small fraction of the total time and effort in any organization actually adds value for the end customer. By clearly defining value for a specific product or service from the end customer’s perspective, all the non-value activities can be targeted for removal.
  2. Identify and Map the Value Stream. The value stream is the entire set of activities across all parts of the organization involved in jointly delivering the product or service. This represents the end-to-end process that delivers the value to the customer.
  3. Create Flow by Eliminating Waste. Eliminate waste by finding steps that add no value; some are unavoidable and others are eliminated immediately. Make the whole process flow smoothly and directly from one step to add value to another, from raw material to final consumer.
  4. Respond to Customer Pull. Understand the customer demand and then create your process to respond to this so that you produce only what the customer wants when the customer wants it.
  5. Pursue Perfection. Once a company gets the first four steps, it becomes clear to those involved to add efficiency whenever possible.

Developing a lean strategy involves radical changes in the way people think and work, which may cause distrust and fear. However, the Japanese discovered lean thinking was a good way to improve human relations. They realized that intelligence and creativity of the workers was often wasted. Sometimes managers do not realize the contribution workers can make towards the elimination of waste. Who knows more about improving the way work is done than the people that actually do the work? All management needs to do is to ask them.

The principles of lean thinking include:

1. Efficient use of resources and eliminating waste.
2. Teamwork.
3. Communication.
4. Continuous improvement.

The goal is the total elimination of waste by:

1. Define waste (Muda).
2. Identify the source.
3. Planning for waste elimination.
4. PERMANENTLY establish control to prevent recurrence.

Lean thinking is the logical evolution of Lean Manufacturing. It is a way of thinking. It seeks to drive cultural change in the way of doing things and values commitment, a passion to do things, righteousness, an efficient customer focus, human resource training, and alignment of the entire environment to the new culture and vision of continuous improvement. Often this is the critical piece missing in many organizations.  

Andrew Milivojevich is the President of The Knowledge Management Group and a leading source for information on Revenue Canada’s Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SRED) tax incentive program.

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