Lean principles: Getting started and going further

Posted on 3 Jan 2023 by The Manufacturer

To begin, let me make one thing clear: if your organisation uses processes, then it can apply lean principles. And it’s safe to say every organisation has processes.

In fact, there’s a strong chance you’re using lean principles already. After all, lean is all about delivering value through the eyes of the customer using only those resources that are absolutely necessary. You’ll be doing this to some degree, whether or not it’s formalised in writing.

I encourage everyone to take a more organised and intentional approach to lean, and its package of tools and techniques. Along with helping you deliver against your business objectives, it has myriad other benefits, from improving staff retention to focusing your journey to net zero.

Below, I outline five steps manufacturers can take to get started with lean and, if you’re already embracing it, how to develop your programme further.

  1. Set the scene: Many companies have dabbled with lean in the past and, often due to poor management, decided it wasn’t for them. If lean is driven by the top, excluding input from staff, it won’t land. Success requires the right culture throughout the organisation and having trust between management and their teams, underpinned by reciprocal, open and honest communication.
  2. Objectively speaking: Next, the management team needs to be clear about organisational goals, what is trying to be achieved and how lean will help them do that more effectively. Having a basic grounding of lean principles will help with this, so encourage everyone involved to develop their fundamental knowledge, whether through internal or external training, YouTube or reading.
  3. Process information: Once objectives are set, define what value is through the eyes of your customer. Map out your top level processes to understand which of them are or aren’t adding value. Any processes you wouldn’t want customers to see or know they’re paying for are non-value add processes, which typically fall into categories known as the “seven wastes”. Identifying these will reveal your opportunities to improve processes by reducing or eliminating waste.
  4. Good measures: Make sure progress is quantifiable so you can demonstrate return and justify continuing efforts. This is key to team motivation. For example, on-time delivery might be at 70% when it should be 100%. Your team will know all too well the repeat issues and frustrations that are contributing to this. With the right culture, you can focus on those issues, resolve them and celebrate measurable progress.
  5. Network it: As you start off, seek out lean networking forums, whether local or national, and find examples of what good can look like. Visit organisations both within and outside your sector. While lean solutions aren’t one-size-fits-all, you’ll always come away with ideas from seeing what others are doing.

What next?

We’re all at risk of becoming blinkered if we’ve been in the same organisation for years, so if you’ve been implementing lean principles for awhile, here are some ways to break the echo chamber and refresh your perspective.

Democratise knowledge

At Morgan, we’ve rejuvenated our approach to lean by developing a ‘Lean Academy’, offering all staff the opportunity to go through a five-stage formal training programme. Rather than relying solely on department heads and our production manager to deliver on lean, we’re building a broader, recognised lean continuous improvement team.

Get feedback

It can be easy to think you’re doing a great job at something, particularly when your measurements tell a positive story. However, they won’t always tell the whole story. Offering well-planned, regular opportunities to staff for anonymous feedback can help highlight areas for improvement.

Back to basics

No matter where you are on your journey, have simple reminders of what the lean basics are. We can get bogged down into complicated, digital solutions. Consider ditching the spreadsheet for mapping your processes with sticky notes while continually asking yourself what you’re trying to achieve. Keep it simple.

Keep collaborating

Continue looking for best practice through lean forums and networking opportunities to help drive and maintain your motivation. Factory tours aren’t just for beginners. I’ve never been on a tour without taking away an idea. There’s something for everyone.

About the author

Paul Jones, Managing Director, Morgan