Lean Transformation Action Plan

December 1, 2007
By Darren Dolcemascolo

The popularity of lean will no doubt increase in the coming year due in part to Toyota becoming the largest automotive manufacturer in the world in 2007. Many organizations will likely begin lean transformations. While there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for implementing lean, I’ve put together some guidelines that may be helpful.

1. Perform an assessment and develop an overall vision and plan for implementation. The assessment can be performed by an in-house lean expert- someone who has led successful lean transformations in the past, or it can be performed by an reputable consultant that has such experience. In conjunction with the assessment, it may be useful to create a “X Production System” diagram, where “X” is your company name. Below is an example of the Toyota Production System, as it is usually represented. The purpose is to clearly identify the goals and then the principles, tools, and resources required to meet the goals.

2. Select some key items/pilot projects for process improvement (based on the assessment) and implement kaizen/5S. It is usually very useful to identify a project or set of projects that are very visible and have a very high probability of success. These pilot projects can serve as momentum-builders for the lean transformation.

3. Begin Value Stream Mapping to identify a plan for improvement, and begin problem solving and 5S training. Value Stream Mapping at this level is a management activity in which a cross-functional team will develop a future state picture and a plan to achieve the future state. This plan will include several projects and team activities. In conjunction with this, roll out 5S implementation and basic problem solving training plant-wide to build momentum at all levels.

4. Implement the projects identified through VSM, and roll out lean training in small bites in conjunction with projects. It is far more effective to train in conjunction with implementation rather than do an exhaustive amount of training up front followed by a delay in implementation. It is a better approach to train and implement, train more and implement, etc.

5. Continue expanding by value stream (or department), whichever makes more sense. Sometimes, it makes sense to expand your lean transformation by value stream; this would be true if there is not much shared equipment/processes among the different product families. For example, let us suppose you are strictly in the assemble and test business and each value stream (product family) can be neatly broken up into independent work cells. In such a case, each value stream is independent. In other cases where shared equipment and processes is impossible to avoid, it likely makes more sense to expand by department.

6. Extend across entire organization to include administrative functions. At this point, it is useful to begin mapping and improving support processes. In fact, in some cases, it makes sense to do this earlier if some of these support processes affect manufacturing significantly. For example, let us suppose that an ECO process is consistently and adversely affecting manufacturing. You might begin improving this process very early in your lean transformation.

7. Create a Lean Promotion Function. Depending on the size of the organization and approach identified in step 1, this may be one person or a core team that will be responsible for planning and facilitating lean activities/events. The caveat here is that you would not want the company to be 100% dependent on this person/group for all lean activities. Lean must be everyone’s responsibility and must become the way of thinking/working for all employees.

8. Develop a growth strategy for additional business. For some businesses that are in high-growth modes, this is not an issue. However, for others, this is a critical point. Lean will free up capacity. It is management’s responsibility to leverage the lean improvements (quality, lead-time, etc.) to generate more revenue and capitalize upon this freed up capacity.

9. Extend Lean to Your Suppliers. Again, this step is business-model dependent. Vertically integrated companies may well afford to wait years before beginning this process, while companies that have outsourced much of their manufacturing must begin the process of improving the “extended value stream” much earlier.

The above 9 steps are intended to be food for thought for those of you that are considering embarking on a lean journey in the near future.

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