The following is an out take from a pending ebook being compiled by the Manufacturers Alliance for release later this year. This portion was written by Melissa Sawin, General Manager, Mid-Continent Engineering. It is part 2 of her article “Lean Culture? It’s All about the Leaders!

Assess What Level Your Company is At

There are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of books on how important it is for leaders to create and share a vision for the company with their employees.  We all know it’s important, right? Any executive with experience of implementing a continuous improvement journey will tell you it’s even more important to set and communicate a clear, strong vision for your company when you are on a lean journey. Why? Because a continuous improvement journey requires constant change, a common fear among most people. The shared vision helps employees understand why they need to change.

I’m not referring to the typical Vision, Mission and Goals statements that most companies develop and print on posters to put on the walls or on laminated cards in your pocket.  I mean a clear specific vision of what your company looks like as a best-in-class, lean operation. 

One method of developing and sharing such a vision with your company is through a typical current state/future state type exercise such as the one below.

Note: the full chart is found in the ebook.

Advanced Plant-wide visual control Kit flow or less than 2 hours of inventory Moving lines
Level 4 Andon system established and sustained 1 day of inventory Integrated fab, weld, paint etc and assembly
Level 3 Hourly abnormality tracking systems maintained 1 week of inventory Flow from raw materials to finished goods
Level 2 Chest high levels-line of sight 2 weeks of inventory at a time Isolated islands of flow
Level 1 People, materials and equipment are hidden Monthly amount of inventory or more Job-shop batch production
Level -Category Visual Control Pull System Flow Production

A tool such as this is commonly used to assess what level the organization is at (y/vertical axis) relative to each lean tool (x/horizontal axis).  Tools like this can be very helpful in identifying and getting everyone on the same page about the current state.  However, they also have a downfall.  They assume that the tools listed are all important and relevant to the organization, which is simply not the case.  A common mistake many companies make when they embark on a continuous improvement journey is they assume all of the tools of lean are important and should be implemented.  This is not true because every company has a different vision for success and different problems that need to be addressed internally in order to achieve that vision.

For example, a company that has high volume products will find TAKT time very useful, whereas a company with low volume, high mix will find that tool more challenging and less useful.  Likewise a company with lots of machines and machine changeover will find setup reduction to be important whereas a company with very little machinery or machine changeover will not.  Thus, setting a custom vision is vitally important.  Once that is done the organization must do a current state analysis to determine which tools of lean will be most beneficial in helping the organization achieve its vision.

…a lot more to follow in the forthcoming ebook.

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