According to BusinessDictionary.com, the definition of “lean” is “doing more with less by employing 'lean thinking.'” Since the end of World War II, when lean manufacturing was developed and implemented in Japan, the many benefits of manufacturing this way continue to show merit. Improved work flow (which includes people, material, work and information) and reduction of waste are the most commonly touted advantages, and there are a variety of lean manufacturing tools, like Kaizen and 5S. But of course, like any other system, the benefits don’t accrue automatically.
Imagine a situation in which you are caught in the middle of heavy traffic on the road and want to scream “Help! Help!”, because you are tired and just want to get home quickly. It would not be an exaggeration to apply the same situation to any lean manufacturing project. You just want to get it done. And, though many valve manufacturing companies have embraced lean methods for continuously improving productivity, challenges often arise while navigating the lean path.
Lucrative lean manufacturing projects are achievable only if the project tasks are done on time and the team is fully cooperative. If we lose the cohesiveness, then we might tend to shout for “Help” as described in the traffic scenario above. But eliminating these frustrations is easy if we use some time-tested efficient techniques. Before examining ways to enhance the experience of lean manufacturing project management, let us see why lean manufacturing is important in the valve industry.
Lean Manufacturing for Valve Industries
Lean manufacturing is an umbrella encompassing projects to reduce setup time, avoid mistakes, eliminate waste and streamline production.
Mathematically speaking, Productivity = Output/Input, so we can have infinite productivity if the input is zero. Eliminating waste will automatically decrease the amount of input and thereby increase the productivity. Valve manufacturers are challenged with product variants and order quantities. To tackle this situation, we need to embrace the lean tools and lower costs.
Are you Fighting Fires?
There are many books, videos and articles explaining the steps involved in a lean manufacturing project, but it is only through actually doing the projects that we learn to work with team members. There is only one boss for a department, but every member is a leader in his/her job profile. If you feel the situation is fire-fighting, then as a leader, don your hat and follow these recommendations:
• Know Your Team – A simple thing like offering a bottle of water at the beginning of a meeting can boost the morale for the rest of the time. It is important to understand the team members and their strengths.
• Lead by Example – Any lean manufacturing project comes with responsible tasks for team members. In a ‘5S’ lean project, the entire team will be watching how each other member is maintaining his/her work area. Thus, it is important to set an example every time.
• Accountability – Emphasize that doing right things matter. It is imperative that all members understand they must accomplish the assigned duties within assigned time.
• Maneuver – Allow room to maneuver in a lean project. A leader is not watching who is making mistakes, but a leader can appreciate the member who took efforts to solve the mistakes.
• Communication – The prime task in a lean project is communication. Keep the team updated if your duties are accomplished and motivate the other member to achieve his targeted task. All lean projects involve many meetings with members. Be an “ATOM” in every meeting.
- Agenda: Have an agenda for the meeting.
- Time: Start the meeting on time and finish it on time. Discourage members from deviating from the topic of discussion.
- Observe: Passive listening should be avoided. Answer the questions briefly and listen to others patiently.
- Minutes of Meeting: Prepare and send the minutes of a meeting to the team immediately after the meeting.
• Learn from Failures – Lean projects are not mathematical equations to solve. They are practical experiments that may sometimes fail. Always find the alternative and never stop the project just because a failure has been experienced.
• Grab the Opportunity – It is believed that ice-cream cones were invented when a canteen employee suggested that ice-cream should be served in an edible container to avoid the trash of ice-cream cups. Similarly, grab the opportunity that can be evolved from any idea of a team member.
• Servant Leader –Every team member is a leader, but don’t wait until somebody is shouting for “Help!” Be courteous and offer help before it is sought. It’s important to earn the respect of the team every single day.
Example: Overcoming an Implementation Problem
While executing a ‘5S’ projects, as a team leader I faced a lot of resistance from the participating members. To overcome that, my boss and I planned to announce the project as a competition.
We trained the participants on the basic concepts of ‘5S’ and then asked them to sign up for the areas where they would like to work. They could pick more than one work area and work in groups too.
Instead of dictating to the members where they would work and with whom, we asked them to volunteer. Ultimately, all the work areas were signed up and members even grouped themselves for certain work areas. Cooperation was great, and team members felt vested in and responsible for the success of their areas and the project.
At the close-out meeting, we published the results and instead of crowning only the top 3 team members, we recognized the efforts from everybody and arranged for a team lunch.
It is important to phase in a LEAN project with the cooperation of everyone involved. Sustaining the pace and holding the enthusiasm till the end of the journey can take us to a beautiful destination. Together Everyone Achieves More – TEAM!