First, it’s about People. Second…

There’s a very good article about Lean manufacturing implementation in a sewing shop titled Becoming a Lean Manufacturer on Kathleen Fasanella’s Fashion-Incubator blog.
We don’t do much Lean manufacturing consulting in apparel (although one of our long-time clients is a customer furniture manufacturer with a cut & sew operation) so I did learn some issues about Lean and sewing. What I liked about the article is the link demonstrated between what we say are the three essential aspects of Becoming a Lean Manufacturer; the operational model, leadership, and workforce.

The jumping off point is the example of the lack of built-in quality in a traditional sewing operation. This “operational model” is not Lean. The organizational and cultural underpinnings of this lack of built in quality, as well as practical countermeasure are outlined in the article. Lean concepts such as stop-the-line (jidoka), cross-training, one-piece flow sewing in work teams, and co-location of design with manufacturing are illustrated.

Read the article. It’s plain-spoken and argues convincingly for the role of leadership in linking the operational model (built-in quality through Lean manufacturing and continuous improvement) with workforce development and empowerment.

A fashion blog was not the first place I would have looked for insight on Lean manufacturing. Thanks go out to Mark Graban for spotting this one and sharing it with the rest of us on his Lean Manufacturing Blog.

So how much of Becoming a Lean Manufacturer is about people? It’s at least 67% if you take leadership and workforce as two out of three. It’s probably more like 88% to 99% people if you consider that the operational model (Toyota Production System) is really about how people interact with each other, how people make decisions, solve problems, and add value using material, machines, and information. Get a hold of a copy of Brown & Spear’s article Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

For more on this theme check out also the Lean Failures blog where reasons #1 and #2 listed there come under the workforce and leadership categories for failure to Become a Lean Manufacturer.

I’ve also written before about the crucial link between leadership, workforce, and operational model in an article about the key role team leaders and supervisors play in implementing and sustaining TPS.

More organizations seem to be getting this. The Supplier Excellence Alliance (SEA), a group of aerospace, defense, and space primes, OEMs and suppliers working to improve competitiveness, appears to. Their Lean Enterprise System Overview focuses on the three aspects of Operational Excellence, Leadership & Culture, Workforce Development.

First, it’s about people. Just compare the profitability of Toyota and how they respect and value their people with how Delphi played chicken with the UAW over bankruptcy, pensions, and wages… and everyone lost. Get “First,” wrong and second and third don’t matter.