Written by Jason Haines

Often when people hear the term Lean, they believe it applies strictly to manufacturing and no other type of industry. When a place is told that Lean is being introduced, the first thought of many is to think it will not work. Most of the time it won’t work, but that is not for the reason that you probably are thinking. The reason it won’t work is that people and management don’t want it to work; they fight against it because they don’t want to work to make it successful. These companies do not push forward and see the benefits of less work and a workforce that is empowered and able to think and solve problems that arise.

Over the years I have witnessed reasons that frontline employees fight against Lean and implementing it into the facility. The first reason is employees are used to the typical “Flavor of the Month” management speak; implementations that come along and go away. We have all been through these. They usually last for very little time because there was no real plan to implement the new program, or they last up to the time the new manager gets promoted and the program disappears to never be heard of again.

The second reason Lean fails in companies is that the employees and leaders do not know the real benefits of Lean. They are not educated on how it can help everyone, not just the company overall. Most people in the early days of Lean saw it as a way for companies to eliminate jobs in order to save money and lower-cost products. But this was not the reason for Lean. Lean was developed so companies could eliminate wastes from their processes and help all employees solve problems and make improvements. The number one thing most leaders need to know is that you must show and teach the benefits of Lean to your employees. It will help you grow over time to create a much more resilient work force and company. Education is one of the keys to helping succeed at your job and in life.

After you and your company start to implement Lean, you will discover its benefits. Employees will start to see their jobs become easier, and people will be free to help each other and see problems before they arise. Floor space, or desk space, will begin to clear up because there is much less work-in-process (WIP) that has been reduced due to the efficiencies gained. While all this is coming together, managers will be able to spend more time with their employees and build relationships that they could not in the past. Building relationships is a key aspect of Lean and helps grow and sustain the whole process within a facility.

So where can you get started with Lean? One way is to contact C Tek and start a discussion with a customer representative that can help you with ordering a Lean Starter Kit. The C Tek Starter Kit gives you the initial knowledge and ability to build workstations, flow racks, and more. The C Tek staff will also lend their time to come into your facility and show you how to use the Starter Kit. These kits are a valuable tool that will help your company become better.

Furthermore, the Starter Kit can help you build any of your needs for upcoming events and provide flexibility to build anything that fits your current project. You can build up to three large structures and between 5-6 smaller structures. And if you ever need to change the structures they can be taken apart and reassembled as another structure.

Other places that you and your company can get started would be to go to the Gemba, or where the work is being done by the frontline employees. When you are doing these observations ask plenty of questions, take plenty of notes. And, as many people in Lean say, ask Why Five Times and find out why certain work is being done. Try to find ways to make improvements while you are making observations and implement the ones you can immediately. Please do not get frustrated with the frontline workers if something doesn’t go well at first. Remember that they are learning this as well.

Put the frontline employees at ease and explain to them why you are there. People will have more respect for you if you let them know what your purpose is. I did this in a plant visit before the COVID shutdown. As I was observing one of their processes, I was asking questions and letting the employees know what I was doing there. This will help both you gain their respect and help put them at ease that you are not there to take their jobs. People want to be heard and that is a major purpose of what Lean can do for your company.

Sometimes when Lean is being implemented, we get lost in the tools and forget that it is about changing the culture for the better. The tools are there to help you as a leader and give guidance to the employees. Like a carpenter needs a hammer to pound a nail, a leader needs Five S to help guide the employees into the direction of using and implementing Lean. With the tools, we are teaching people the types of actions we want them to take to make a better product and company.

Lean helps companies by lessening the number of steps in the system. Which in turn helps employees to become thinkers rather than doers. Doers are always busy and never trying to improve their jobs because they too busy. Thinkers find better ways to improve their jobs, making their jobs less stressful and enjoyable. Toyota didn’t want people to come to work, they wanted them to come to work to think and improve. This is how Toyota built quality into their processes and systems; showing respect for their people and giving them the chance to grow with the company.

If you want your company to move to the next level and become better at what you are currently doing, then Lean methods would be the best way to go. It helps to eliminate parts of processes that aren’t needed, cleans and organize your facility to see problems and solve problems as they arise, and sets standards to help a company nowhere to start and make training new employees easier. All these things are very beneficial to the company and the leaders of the company.