3 Keys for Rethinking LEAN in Mid-Sized Businesses

How to uncover and eliminate wastes to reduce costs and meet customer expectations

You may have read a lot about LEAN — including our last post about how a manufacturer applied it to its finance department to achieve an improved month-end close cycle. You also may have heard what it can do for manufacturing and service companies. The case studies seem almost too good to be true. Even if a fraction of the stories are true, you are convinced LEAN is the way to go.

lean-case-studyNow come one or more problems:

  • No budget to create a LEAN office
  • Can’t send employees to expensive weeks of training
  • No time to develop LEAN capabilities
  • Competitors are taking business now
  • Profits aren’t meeting expectations
  • Customer demand is exceeding your capacity
  • Nagging expansion decisions.

What should you do?

The answers lie in the simplicity of LEAN itself. Sure, there are dozens of LEAN tools, skills that need to be learned and practiced and company culture change is necessary. But the bottom line: LEAN is simply the elimination of waste. The keys are identification of the wastes, the immediate elimination of wastes (quick hits) and the prioritization of additional opportunities, focused on meeting customer expectations and reducing costs.

While staying true to the principles of LEAN, there are a number of options at your disposal to get started now. They include:

Key #1: Assessments – You may not be sure where your biggest LEAN opportunities exist. With the right resource, you can be well on your way with an assessment of 1-4 weeks (depending on the size of your company and the number of processes in your scope). This provides a great opportunity to figure out the improvement areas and set expectations for what can be accomplished. One company had so many opportunities with no idea where to begin. Pragmatek conducted assessments at several plants and identified some quick hits, including layout and material flow improvements. As a result of the assessments, Pragmatek was able to customize a LEAN approach that not only started the whole company LEAN journey but also allowed focus on some significant opportunities to increase productivity and reduce costs.

Key #2: Rifle-shots – While you want your whole company on a LEAN journey together, you may have specific manufacturing, service or office processes that are killing you right now. While a LEAN culture involves the whole company, specific LEAN tools can be applied to individual processes for lasting and timely results. The added benefits: LEAN buy-in by employees and cash flow improvements to help fund further LEAN efforts. For one company, Pragmatek started by re-designing the primary production line that was a bottleneck, completed a re-layout of a new plant and improved the supply chain supporting another line that was a significant bottleneck. Then Pragmatek continued with traditional, whole-company LEAN implementation.

Key #3: Train-as-you-go – Instead of classroom training, you may want to begin with phased LEAN Champion training. This is usually on-site, with immediate application of what is learned by your team to understand your processes and make real-time improvements as LEAN is being learned. As part of a LEAN roll-out, Pragmatek developed a customized LEAN Champion training schedule where after each training module and worked side-by-side with the LEAN Champions, putting the newly acquired skills to use solving real plant problems (e.g. taking on-time shipments from 50 percent to 90+ percent, improving a process flow line productivity by more than 100 percent, implementing a customer Kanban process to maximize revenue and level load production).

Find a trusted, seasoned partner who can start with you now and support your long-term LEAN journey. At the end of the day, the right partner will help you launch your LEAN initiative, find ways to help you pay for the journey and get results.

For more about re-thinking LEAN, read how Pragmatek began the LEAN transformation at Daktronics, a manufacturer of electronic score-boards and other large-screen displays.

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