What is the best way of implementing Lean Manufacturing?

Lean Manufacturing Implementation

What is the best way of implementing Lean Manufacturing? What is that magic recipe that would guarantee us that, if we follow it, the Lean Transformation will be not only successful but also sustainable?

I am asked those two questions very often… If you are a Lean consultant or in general, if you are passionate about Lean, you can easily make people get excited about it too. It is hard not to be excited when Lean is all about being better and more efficient in everything we do. Getting people excited is the easy part, again, for Lean believers that walk the talk.

But then the disruptive questions come, not only very quickly, but also in a very abrupt, positive and optimistic way: “What is the recipe? Do you have a playbook? I want to start today, follow the instructions and finish by being successful tomorrow. Or, if not tomorrow, what about checking the mark a day after? I am committed and want to put my best effort into it.”

What is the best answer to these very “normal” questions? How can we tell somebody that, indeed, the journey can and should start today but it is never ending? How can we tell them that, yes, we are the Lean “experts” but, unlike the doctors, we don’t have a recipe that, if they follow, you are guaranteed to succeed? In fact, let’s be honest, the doctors don’t have it either… Not always at least…

And then they make it even harder on us… “OK, I understand! How much is it? How much does it cost to sell me the secret recipe? I am willing to pay as I know this will take me where I want to be in the future. Just tell me how much? And, you know what, I will pay you more if you give me the “secret” one, the one that you haven’t given yet to anybody before so I can finish this race the 1st? … And take the glory together with the big trophy!”

What do we do? I know, I know; I did disappoint many people by simply saying that there was no recipe for success in Lean. I like looking at it positively and saying that, consequently, there are many, many ways that a company can achieve success through Lean implementation. As, at the end of the day, Lean is as much engineering and rigorous, logical, structured thinking as it is the art of blending the many, otherwise simple, Lean tools in a unique recipe, a recipe that works for the particular company. That is the beauty of Lean and, in the same time, the difficulty of it.

I have taught both sides of Lean Six Sigma: the Lean and Six Sigma. From the system perspective, they do serve the same purpose. From the implementation and the moment they need to be engaged, it is a significant difference. Launching Lean without Six Sigma it makes sense in certain situations – e.g. the waste is so evident that first we need to clean it up and then apply statistical tools -. I still have to see an organization when it makes sense to launch Six Sigma first… Launching both at the same time is the ideal but, for that, the organization needs to have a certain maturity level.

My own way of looking at it is that, before the organization is brought at the 70-80% level on the Lean maturity level, there is no need of seriously launching the sophisticated Six Sigma tools; at least not on a large scale, beyond the traditional quality, process control and basic problem solving. Or else it becomes a “great” waste optimization… Or, building a sand castle… Use Lean tools to eliminate the bulk part of the waste and then use Six Sigma to optimize and fine tune the systems.

What is your opinion? Do you have a recipe? If you do, have you tried it successfully in several Lean transformations and it worked? Would you like to share it?

Or, alternately, do you agree that the way the Lean tools are used and customized based on the environment in a particular organization makes the difference between a successful and unsuccessful Lean implementation?

And, yes, not to have too many people disappointed by my inability or lack of Lean knowledge, we did come up with a recipe… It is, in fact, the one that you can access for free from our website, among other very useful information. We don’t hold the intellectual property of it although, it is our own. We don’t because, after doing this for many years, we learned that there is no one-size-fits-all. It is not a copy-paste exercise or else, at the end of the day, we would all be Toyota. What worked for them it doesn’t necessarily work for us. As a matter of fact, what worked for them in the past might not work for them in the present… We have seen that not too long ago…

What is the best way of implementing Lean Manufacturing? What is that magic recipe that would guarantee us that, if we follow it, the Lean Transformation will be not only successful but also sustainable? We are all still searching for the “magic wand”…

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