By Kevin Meyer
In addition to having implemented lean in several companies, I’ve been fortunate to have been able to visit a large number of unique organizations where continuous improvement methods have taken root. Although for the most part they’re all different, they also have a few things in common:
- A strong yet humble leader that enables and respects people by teaching new concepts and letting them try ideas, with failure seen as a valuable part of the learning process.
- A methodical process that truly analyzes the current state, envisions the future state, and identifies the appropriate changes necessary to improve.
- An ability to identify new tools and methods, then modifying them for their specific circumstance, thereby engraining them into culture and making them their own. Owning it.
The first point on respect for people is critically important, but is often forgotten or not understood. In my opinion it is the primary reason lean transformations fail, which is also why Gemba Academy has recently released the Culture of Kaizen series of videos.
The second and especially third points are what then create success. Instead of simply adopting tools, which is the danger of benchmarking best practices, they dig into their situation to truly understand the problem or opportunity. Only then do they look for tools and methods, and even at that point they know they need to customize those tools.
Great continuous improvement organizations don’t just implement tools. They go through a process:
- What is the problem or opportunity?
- What is the underlying root cause or reason? Really dig into it. Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?
- What are some potential tools and methods to create improvement?
- How will those tools work in our environment? What needs to change?
- How will they be implemented? By who, with what resources, knowingly de-prioritizing what other activities?
I’ve seen a lot of great organizations over the past couple decades, and they have reinforced to me that there is no one “right way.” I know there are many purists out there that insist we must follow “The Way” with regards to which tools, in what manner and order, following the teachings of Ohno or whoever. Don’t get me wrong – the historical context is very valuable. But it is also just an input, and every situation is different.
Here are just a few examples from Gemba Academy’s Gemba Live! series – where we go out to unique organizations to bring you their stories. Each one is different
Techno Aerospace, where the entire organization is geared toward supporting their hoshin plan, including incentives, visual methods, and defined processes.
Menlo Innovations, a software development firm where every activity is focused around adding joy to their team members and customers.
Aluminum Trailer Company, a manufacturing company that leverages Training Within Industry (TWI) throughout, and even outside, the organization.
Specialty Silicone Fabricators, a medical device company where coordinated, cascading standup morning meetings and visual accountability systems at all levels of the multi-site company ensure alignment, execution, and focus.
FastCap, a company led by Paul Akers, where associates are encouraged to practice “two second lean” – making small improvements each day, every day. The compounding effect of those improvements is incredible.
There are several more examples at Gemba Live!, and in a couple weeks we’ll be releasing videos from another company that has taken autonomous teams to an incredible level.
While in Japan a few years ago I also visited some innovative companies:
Toyota’s Kyushu factory, at that time it’s most efficient auto manufacturing facility in the world, yet there were almost no robots or computers on the shop floor – just an amazing example of manual kanban and the compounding effect of thousands of ongoing small improvements.
Saishunken Cosmetics, where almost all 1,000 employees worked in one large open room, with no walls, with the president and executive staff at a conference table in the middle. The agility created by the ability to communicate rapidly was a game-changer.
An electronics company where a dedication to 3S, not 5S, turned the company around and made it successful. You’ll even find the president scrubbing the floors in the morning.
There have been others even before that trip.
Sun Hydraulics in Florida, where a company of over 1,000 people had no job titles, except for the “plant manager” that was in charge of watering the plants. An incredible story – and also some difficulties as they contemplated growth.
And last but not least…
American Apparel, a company that fascinated me for a long time and I was lucky enough to visit. They could design and manufacture clothing in Los Angeles, outcompeting Asian sweatshops, even with the burden of a CEO that had “other interests.” The story is great, unfortunately the CEO not so much.
Don’t just “do lean” by value stream mapping, holding a kaizen event, or even 5S. Take the time, as a team, to truly understand the problem or opportunity, and even then don’t just slap a tool on it. Modify it and change it to ensure it works with your situation and culture.