This Blog contribution is from Brett Saburn, a Quality Engineer at Bermo Incorporated, a contract manufacturer in the sheet metal industry.  Bret also facilitates a Lean Enterprise Peer Group and teaches the Lean in Contract Manufacturing workshop, available through the Manufacturers Alliance. This posting continues our series on problem solving by reminding us to focus on the problem to be solved and not let the tools to become the goal.


Pick up a book on lean and there is a good chance you will read about time in the first few chapters.  Time is about money and money available is much more valuable than money tied up.  Reducing lead time by eliminating waste from your process allows you to both obtain a quicker return on your investment and drive out unnecessary costs.

Taiichi Ohno, founder of the Toyota Production System (TPS), stated it well when he said “All we are doing is looking at the time line from the moment the customer gives us an order to the point when we collect the cash.  And we are reducing that time line by removing the non-value-added wastes.

The problem is that by the time we finish the book, our heads are filled with techniques and methods to eliminate waste.  We identify tools that benefit our organization and begin aggressively pursuing the implementation of those tools.  Lead time reduction may get forgotten about as we get caught up in the implementation.

If we aren’t careful, the tools themselves become the goal rather than the means of attaining the goal.

When I first became involved with lean, I kept hearing the same thing: Start with 5S.  It’s easy for people to see, comprehend, and implement.  Buy-in is fairly simple and the results are highly visual.  Besides: ‘If you can’t do 5S, you can’t do anything’.  For the next two years, our main focus was 5S’ing the organization.  Most employees appreciated having a clean, well organized, efficient work area that they could be proud of.  Customers liked seeing the efforts, knowing that they would benefit in the long term.  Sales and Marketing loved it because the customers liked it.  And yet after spending thousands of dollars and 2 years on 5S improvements, the efficiencies gained were hardly noticeable on our time line.  We were focused on a waste that was not a key contributor to our lead time.  While we had a right to be proud of our accomplishments, 5S for us was a better marketing tool than anything.

I have seen many very successful, well ran organizations measure the success of their lean efforts in a fashion similar to the simplified version below.


This strategy is natural and well intentioned but may drive poor choices.  According to the chart above, Standard Work is the largest gap in the organization and might be considered a priority in strategic planning.  Meanwhile, the data showing where the system waste lies is usually unavailable. Leading you to believe the use of the lean tool is the goal rather than a means of attaining the goal.

Simon Nagota, Former Toyota VP of Supply Management, stated that “Time is the shadow of waste”.  It is my contention that if you are serious about becoming a world class organization, you should do these three things well.

  • Map your process: This can be as complex as a value stream map or as simple as the time line shown below.  The format is not as important as the data it contains.  At a minimum, you need to clearly identify the following:
    1. Each step in the process
    2. Whether the step is adding value or is waste
    3. How long each step takes

What should you map?  The portion of your organization that you can influence.

How detailed should your map be?  Enough to identify where your focus should lie:  Keep it simple and expand upon it as needed.  The map following is extremely simple and high level, and yet it helps you quickly identify some of your largest opportunities.


  • Identify your best opportunities: Now that you can clearly see where the waste lies in your system, you can best choose which one(s) should take priority.  This will generally be the largest wastes that you can control with the resources that you have available.  Once you have identified which opportunity you want to focus on, more detailed process maps and/or data are likely beneficial.

For Example: The map above shows that the job and shipping queues are your largest opportunities for improvement.  If you choose to address the shipping queue (job available to ship), you will need to fully understand why the waste exists.  Collecting further data and/or more detailed mapping in both the queue and the shipping process will likely identify wastes that you were unaware of and help you understand what to tackle first.

  • Choose the tools that address the opportunities: Now that you know which wastes you are attempting to eliminate, choose the tools that best address those wastes.  It may be one tool, or it may be several, because the tool is just that, a tool.

By intentionally focusing on your goal (reducing lead time), mapping your current state appropriately to show where your opportunities lie, and then applying tools that best address those opportunities, you will maximize your resources and make the biggest difference in the shortest amount of time.  You will naturally create a culture pursuing improvements rather than pursuing lean tools.

One thought

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s