In lean, every effort toward producing more value to the customer counts. Although the appeal of lean is almost universal, its benefits are not necessarily so. Usually, the culprit is a lack of discipline in sustaining continuous improvements. As time passes, old improvements lose their effectiveness.
New ideas must continuously emerge to maintain productivity growth and keep people’s engagement alive in rapidly changing environments.
Video Spotlight:Kaizen Lean Process Improvement
This post is based on the NY Times article, Here’s the Skinny: For Lean Production Processes to Work, a Company Needs to Be All In, by E. Rosen, October 11, 2018, and the YouTube video, Kaizen Lean Process Improvement, by Sheridan Healthcare, September 10, 2013. Image source: (c) Creatas/PunchStock.
1. What are some of the lean characteristics mentioned in the article? Provide examples.
Guidance: Characteristics include waste reduction (e.g., value analysis: no cover required, reducing non-value-added time with trash can attached to chair, smoothing work flow at Ace Metal); continuous improvement (e.g. continuing to reduce non-value-added time with more revisions to process improvement); lean culture (e.g. getting everyone involved at Watlow), use of cross-functional teams (e.g. problem at Lantech when changes are made without communicating them with everyone else involved in a process).
2. Complacency is a threat to the sustained success of lean. How does one keep people engaged and innovative?
Guidance: Discuss the people philosophy that is key to success in lean. People generate many good ideas to improve processes. These ideas must be implemented in order to sustain and promote an innovative environment. As productivity grows, people should not lose their jobs. The article refers to that requirement when emphasizing that Watlow focuses on areas short on capacity.
Lean requires a whole system approach: anyone, at any level of the organization, should be involved in solving problems and improving processes. New employees, even at entry level positions, bring a new perspective to old processes and can help develop new streams of process improvements. Good efforts should be rewarded. Discuss compensation plans that reward employees for their contributions to lowering costs or improving quality (e.g. Scanlon-type plans).
3. In management textbooks, top management commitment is often cited as a requirement for success. In the case of lean, what does “top management commitment” mean specifically?
Guidance: Top management commitment may seem like an abstract concept to many students. Discuss the importance of providing employees with the resources (time and money) they need to solve problems and improve processes. Also discuss the need to establish and promote intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.