The Five Pillars of A Solid Lean Foundation

How to Create a Solid Lean Foundation

Creating a Lean FoundationSo, you’re looking to implement Lean in your workplace and aren’t sure where to start. Or maybe you’ve experienced some problems in previous or current Lean efforts and are trying to figure out why things aren’t quite falling into place. Whatever your predicament, we’re here to help.

In this blog post we’re going to go over five of the best ways one can prepare their business for Lean and, more importantly, set themselves up for success. The whole web of Lean ideology can be confusing and is extremely technical and involved, so while you’re learning you don’t need to be weighed down even more by uncertainty over the basics. Here are the ways in which you can help to build a solid foundation for your Lean efforts before you even begin.

5 Steps to Building a Lean Foundation

1. Know What Your Business – And Team – Do & Don’t Do Well

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In life, we’re often told to challenge and push ourselves to try new things. Just as this advice can help bring about personal growth, it is also the backbone of continual improvement – you’re going to have to get comfortable with focusing on your problem areas until they’re looking better.

In a somewhat counterintuitive move, you’re going to need to, at some point, take a break from looking at where your business is lacking in order to focus on what positive skills your staff already have. Take an inventory of your workers, especially those in management and/or anyone who will be directly involved in Lean improvement projects. Start thinking about the skills that various workers have. For this first pillar, you should create a skill inventory of those who will be involved in your Lean projects. By comparing this skill inventory with observed problems, solutions will start to naturally present themselves.

2. Know What Tools Will Fit Well With Your Business & Staff

The next pillar is based upon the first; you’re going to want to use the information you collected and thought about before to start constructing your Lean toolbox. This will be a list or mental inventory of the Lean strategies most used in your continual improvement projects.

For example, some businesses which identify organization improvements as a major need will look into sorting and maintenance strategies like 5S. Those who determine they need to work on over-production or physical waste might be better suited to put strategies like “Kanban” in their toolboxes. Of course, with changing needs and industry advancements you can always change your favorite methods, but it’s very important to have a basic framework for problem solving and not just randomly look for “a Lean tool” when a project presents itself.

According to Lean Enterprise Institute:

“Standardized work is one of the most powerful but least used lean tools. By documenting the current best practice, standardized work forms the baseline for kaizen or continuous improvement. As the standard is improved, the new standard becomes the baseline for further improvements, and so on. Improving standardized work is a never-ending process.”

3. Choose your Project Selection Strategy

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Just as important as identifying the tools you’ll use to solve problems is figuring out how you’re going to identify problems in the first place. If you’re using gemba (on the workfloor) walks, a visual strategy like flow charts or value stream mapping, AND just general “looking around”, you’re going to end up with an overload of possible routes – which often leads to a whole lot of nothing getting done.

When figuring out how you’ll primarily identify the areas of your business most in need of improvement, it’s important to note that they don’t need to actually be an official “Lean strategy” or have a fancy name. If you get the best information from weekly employee chats you have with each of your workers, keep that up. If you prefer to use the company books as a starting point for picking out potential problem areas, that’s fine too. As long as your suspicions can be confirmed with facts before you move to take action on them, any identification process is just fine.

4. Know What You Really Need Before You Ask For It

This pillar is primarily to aid in your interactions with management and others whose decisions will have an influence on the projects you do and don’t get to bring to fruition. One mistake new Lean practitioners will make is identifying a problem (that’s fine), pairing it with an appropriate solution (so far, so good), and then assuming that knowledge is all they’ll need to carry the effort to completion (uh oh, red flag!).

An important part of your foundation is the knowledge that every action in Lean has a reaction, and asking for “some space to conduct project XYZ” involves all kinds of extra factors; you might be changing employee work hours temporarily, displacing other workers, disrupting short term production, etc. No manager wants to be surprised by these kinds of things halfway through your project because you failed to mention (or even consider) them in the beginning. Better to be clear and knowledge of your needs from the get-go!

5. Have A ‘People Plan’

Lean Foundation People PlanPillar four is a perfect segue to the fifth pillar, as they both are wrapped up in the other people your projects will affect. ‘People plans’ are largely about learning how to communicate effectively with those who have different backgrounds and education levels than you with regard to Lean.

Remember just above, when we talked about being upfront about the requirements of a project? Communicating these requirements is complicated by the fact that it’s only effective if the person you’re talking to really understands what you’re saying.

Make the words and phrases you use easy to understand and think about how Lean concepts were explained to you in the first place; what seems second nature now was once a foreign concept, and your position will constantly force you to come to terms with this.

Of course, once the further along you get, the more knowledgeable your general workplace culture will become of the needs, tools, and terminology involved in continual improvement strategies. Just make sure you don’t jump the gun and assume you’ve reached this balance or consensus before you actually have.

Well, there you have it, five pillars for ensuring your Lean efforts go the distance. Got any suggestions for another important Lean consideration you’d include?  Feel free to let us know!


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