Lean philosophy in your workplace
The economic climate over the past five years has changed the internal workings of companies forever. Worldwide, the majority of companies have or are in the process of downsizing. As indicated in the April 2010 study conducted by Intercall, 48% of workers are required to do more work with fewer resources. To remain competitive in facing the realities of today’s global marketplace, we all are doing more, with less.
As Technologists, we are in the role of leading major projects or are a technical team player on those projects. We are being told to work more and to start thinking about how we can save the company money when we do our job. There is pressure to perform, and guess what…you can deliver if you think differently on how to approach your problem, project and/or process. How? Think Lean!
Some of you may have heard of this methodology. It was originally developed in 1910 by Henry Ford who was the first practitioner of the Lean Concept with the manufacturing of the Model T. The concept, however, was fully developed by Toyota Motor Company in the 1940s because of economic challenges. Over the years, Toyota further developed and fine-tuned the concept and called it Toyota Production System (TPS). By the mid 1970s, U.S. manufacturers noticed the positive impact of TPS and adopted these principles and named it Lean Manufacturing. Today, the benefits of Lean are not just for the manufacturing sector, they are used in all business sectors and services.
What is Lean?
Lean is customer centric. It creates ‘value’ to the customer by eliminating ‘waste’ in the system. It focuses on efficiency by optimizing flow. It looks at what matters rather than uncritically accepting pre-existing ideas. Lean thinking would ask why the copy machine is at the other end of the building which forces employee to walk 30 feet every time they need to photocopy a document. It would ask how we can reduce our changeover times on a packaging line from two hours to 30 minutes so more product can be produced in the same timeframe. It looks at how we measure the success rate of our training programs to our sales forces. Simply put, Lean is about continuously improving ways of working resulting in the customer and company having a win-win relationship by increasing quality and decreasing costs.
Lean was born out of need
The economic climate and competitive environment demanded it. The same can be said today. Today’s global market is demanding higher quality, faster delivery and lower costs, plus with the added factor of limited resources our current antiquated practices will not get us to where we need to go. Lean thinking and its tools are a sure way to ensure we remain competitive in the global market place. As Technologist, we are at the heart of producing those products and services and can have an impact on how they are delivered.
So what can Technologist do? We need to understand the philosophy of Lean and start implementing the tools into our designs and processes. The first step is to understand what Lean is about. Lean thinking has four main goals:
The ability of your product and series to conform to your customers wants and needs. Quality is the primary way a company stays competitive in the market place.
Waste is any activity that takes up time, resources or space but does not add value to products or service. Value-added activity transforms or shapes raw material or information to meet your customer’s requirements. All other activities are considered non-value-added.
Reduce lead time
Lead time is the total time it takes to complete a series of tasks within a process. By reducing lead time, companies can better respond to customer demands and changes while improving its return on investment.
Reduce total costs
Total costs are the direct and indirect costs associated with the production of a product or service. Companies must continually balance its product and service prices and operating cost to succeed.
What is Lean waste? Lean has seven specific wastes:
- Overproduction. Producing faster than the rate of consumption. We make more product than our customer asks for.
- Inventory. Having excess inventory that is not directly required for your current customer needs.
- Motion. Extra steps taken by employees or equipment to accommodate an inefficient process or to accommodate other types of waste in the system.
- Waiting. Periods of inactivity for a downstream process because an upstream process doesn’t deliver on time.
- Over Processing. Having to perform more activities than necessary to complete an activity.
- Defects. Any activity that must be corrected because it did not conform to the original requirement.
- Transportation. The unnecessary movement of material.
Integrating these Lean goals is not an overnight task but there is one thing you can start doing today, focus on simplicity. Complexity causes waste. Complexity is not about analyzing or improving what you already have but adding more layers to the existing problems without thinking how each “solution” interacts and ultimately impacts the problem area you are trying to solve. These types of “solutions” create waste in our projects and processes. Simplicity, on the other hand, forces you to question all activities and streamline ways of working by focusing on eliminating waste in your activities.
By focusing on simplicity and implementing Lean’s four main goals, companies will be better able to meet customer demand for quality products or services when they need it and for a price they are willing to pay. They create processes that are flexible, nimble and efficient. They help companies manage total costs and ultimately improve the company’s bottom line.
In order to receive these benefits, employees, like you, must start thinking differently when addressing problems, projects and process. Lean thinking is a philosophy. It is a skill set that must be taught, tools learnt and process solutions implemented in daily decision making. Once Lean thinking is incorporated into company culture, it brings about positive changes in employees’ ways of working.
So if you need to do more with less, it doesn’t have to be a struggle. As a Technologist, you have the ability to think differently. Think lean when addressing work related issues and opportunities. Looking at problems, projects and processes from a lean perspective will lead you to a more efficient working environment and happier employees…your company will thank you for it.
Are you doing more with less? Feel free to leave a comment below or shout out to us on Facebook or Twitter. Of course, you could always write your own blog post on the subject and share it with us… We’d love to read it!