Four Things to Do Before Letting the Lean Consultants in the Door

We are often asked, “What can we do in the mean time?” when shaking hands on an agreement to begin a Lean consultation with a new client. For most companies that are new to Lean, and even some that have been at it for a while, this advice applies:
1. Sort out what you need and what you don’t need. This is the first step of 5S. It doesn’t require a consultant to do clean-up, although we might challenge some of the things you think you need. The short term benefits of this are opening up space, a cleaner and safer work environment, and possibly even cost reductions if you find materials or supplies you didn’t know you had. The tools needed for this are work clothes and a place to store the things you think you don’t need but have questions about.
2. Measure what you are doing. Anything that you can observe, you should measure. How much space, time and materials do you have? How long does it take to find something you need? How long does it take for an order to go through your process and turn into cash collected? How much distance do your products and people travel? How much stuff do you have? How much of it is bad? If nothing else this is an eye-opening exercise and good time spent on the gemba by your team. The benefits include some starting data for kaizen, so you don’t need to collect this while the consultant is on the clock. The tools needed for this are a video camera, stopwatch, measuring wheel, a pencil and tally sheet, etc.
3. Set some workplace rules. Start by asking, “What rules do we already have?” You may be surprised. When do people report to work? Where do they go? What is the first thing they do? What are the rules for clothing, uniforms, or protective equipment. That pallet on the floor, where should it go? What bout that piece of sheet metal leaning against the wall? Should it be there? It might be too early to start throwing the word “standards” around, but you can be sure your consultant will use that word. The benefit of this exercise is that it reveals the “invisible workplace” similar to the software operating system of a computer. The tool needed here is a document, specification or standard as reference. Lacking that, a pencil and paper to make one will suffice.
4. Make these three things very visible. Now that you have plucked some low-hanging fruit and cleared away the rubble on the road to Lean, make it clear that this is the new normal condition. The benefit of making things visible is that the abnormal or problem condition will jump out at you. Tools needed for this vary, but simple is best. Stay away from things that need to be plugged into an electrical outlet to be visible.
There are certainly more things your team could do before letting the Lean consultants in the door. Let your consultant in the door for a few minutes and ask them what those things are.

2 Comments

  1. Mike

    November 16, 2007 - 8:20 am

    Excellent idea, Jon. Thank you.

  2. Scott

    November 20, 2007 - 6:47 am

    Make sure you understand the requirements to over come for change such as approval from ASME for a code process or part testing and if you are not in the US the probability of government approval for any process or layout change. Make sure this is in your pre-brief for any consultant so they understand the playing field.