Most lean efforts begin with middle management (you know, the people with ‘bad attitudes’ that usually get the blame for lean failures … funny how that works … middle management typically learns about lean, spends years trying to convince senior management to support it … then when it fails with lukewarm senior management commitment, the blame is put on middle management … but I am getting away from the topic). This brief note is for the rare situation in which a senior manager gets lean fever and wants to know where to start.
The best and the easiest first step is to simply change from driving the organization to make monthly goals, to making weekly goals. Most companies conjure up a disproportionate percentage of production and make a disproportionate percentage of the shipments in the last week of the month. Plants have learned all of the tricks necessary to pull out all of the stops and overcome obstacles by brute force to make the numbers. All the senior guy has to do is to announce that he is no longer interested in monthly production, shipments and budget performance. Instead, he wants to measure everyone on their performance to each of four equal weeks.
There will be a great deal of pain as all of the routine problems come to the surface – poor vendor deliveries, long set ups, machine reliability problems, etc… But sooner or later, the plant will figure it out. When they do, change the measurement criteria to daily performance. Then hourly.
Every time you put pressure on the system to execute consistently in smaller time increments, you are forcing more variability in the processes to come to the surface. You can overcome a vendor shipping three days late if you have all month to do it – it’s impossible to overcome parts three days late if you have to make the week. It will not take long before the old tools – and the brute force approach – won’t get the job done. As is gets harder and harder to reduce set up times and fix quality problems, plant management will be more and more receptive to lean tools. You won’t have to convince anyone to learn SMED – they will be desperate to learn Shingo’s set up reduction techniques and principles.
I learned that from a guy who buys small, under-performing manufacturing companies and whips ’em into shape. He had neither the time nor the inclination to get hands on in driving lean transformations in all of these companies. Instead, he drove them to shorter performance intervals. When they squealed loud enough, he suggested that they go out and learn something about lean. Through this method, he created motivated management teams, eager to become lean, if for no other reason than to get him off of their backs.