Pulling lean

Friday, March 9, 2018

Master Black Belt, Tremco  http://www.tremcosealants.com,  AME Cleveland Lean Consortia, https://www.ame.org/ame-cleveland-consortium

Having trouble with resistance to lean? Try putting your lean practice on a pull system!

If you are a continuous improvement (CI) practitioner, you know the meaning of pull. When pulling, we use only what we need, when we need it. We study a production system and learn the bottlenecks and how material and information flow. We then pull the raw materials and information - what we need, when we need it. This eliminates overproduction, reduces work-in-progress (WIP) inventory, cuts waste, and creates flow.

This is in contrast to push where we make inventory, or plan a service, in accordance with the forecast or historical figures. Push has the effect of inflating both finished goods inventories as well as work in progress inventory. Ohm’s Law tells us that inflated inventories will greatly extend manufacturing or even service lead times.

So – let’s apply the concept of “pull” to the practice of lean itself. What is pulling lean? Simple, apply lean where you need lean, use only the tools that you need when you need them, train as you go, and drive towards achievable output metrics. End the practice of pushing lean on an area because you think it’s the right thing to do. Why? Because pushing lean is not people-centric. By nature, lean does not easily resonate with most people. You will face more resistance at all levels of the organization. You will also face more entropy while trying to sustain.

Think about it, most of the time we pick an area that we want to lean out – do a 5S event, implement some standard work, start up tier meetings, visual boards, etc. Many of these efforts require significant change, often un-wanted. How do we handle explaining this change? Here is an example conversation:

Leader: “We need to be lean. We will be more flexible to meet demands. We will carry less inventory. Free up cash! Material will flow better, quality enhanced. Smaller batch sizes will require more set ups, but we will figure that out.”

Workforce response: “This machine only runs 2 – 3 days a week. We are meeting demand. The company is making money. Why are you asking me to be lean? You’re asking me to do more with less.”

Of course, there may be viable reasons for practicing lean on a machine that is at 50 percent demand capacity – such as freeing up resources or projected seasonal demand, but from the workforce perspective the work is getting completed faster in order to shut down sooner. How does our leader create pull? By explaining the rational for lean, linking the lean effort to a business need, and visualizing lean results with an output metric that makes sense to everyone.

Pulling lean is all about practicing lean where lean is needed, when needed, in accordance with a business strategy. Another example would be would be a capacity constrained machine that supports a strategic value stream. The compelling case for lean here is that you stand to lose customers if demand exceeds capacity -  on a value stream that is critical to success. Most reasonable people will understand this rational. Now you have the mandate, the burning platform, to make change - that’s people-centric.

Let’s go one step further. For example, you’re implementing kata to relieve the above capacity constraint. Observing the process, you see variance in change-over times due to either methods or training. What a great case for standard work! By showing people your data, including how change may affect capacity, you are more likely to create buy in and acceptance for change. This is opposed to pushing standard work on someone for the sake of standard work. “Standardization has great benefits,” you tell your people. Guess what? Without the proper platform, there are people that will see this as a condescending degraded view of their abilities.

Do your homework – get the data, create a case for change, practice lean towards an output metric. Get some results. You will have more buy in from folks, including senior management. Then listen as people start “pulling” for more.

More to come. Your thoughts are welcome!