A lot has been said and discussed on how lean techniques can bring a positive change in your organizational structure and functioning. But the very natural question which arises is ‘How do you do this?’; ‘Are there any tools for Lean transformation?’
As a Six Sigma Certified practitioner with extensive commercial experience, I have found that many of the undoubtedly effective engineering techniques such as designed experiments or response surface methodology have little or no application in a mainstream commercial environment. The Pareto principle applies within the quality world as well, for 20% of the lean tools can deliver 80% of the benefits.
It is true that these lean tools are widely known. There are no additional secrets or esoteric techniques to be revealed in this article. Yet the fundamental reasons for success in any human endeavor are already in the public domain; the trick is consistent and diligent application and adaptation to changing circumstances.
The most inspiring fact is that the very simplicity of these lean tools means they can be widely disseminated and quickly applied in any organization. The same concepts and techniques can indeed be applied to non-business objectives and activities. Simplicity is power and as the philosophical device of Occam’s Razor proves, the cleanest and most elegant solution is almost invariably the most effective.
We begin the list with one of the most effective lean tool for every work area, namely 5S. Now the ‘5S’ are:
- Sort – Eliminate unnecessary elements/ items
- Set in Order – Organize the remaining elements/ items
- Shine – Clean and Inspect your work area
- Standardize – Set standards for Cleanup
- Sustain – Regularly apply the standards
This is a very basic and yet very essential tool for manufacturing units as it eliminates the wastage of time and effort due to poor organization of the work area. For example the time wasted by workers in finding their tools can be saved if there is an allotted area where tools need to be kept.
A bottleneck is a constraint in the supply chain due to which more time is taken by the resource to complete the task. A bottleneck analysis brings focus on the critical issues which need to be addressed for better performance of the unit. This tool helps in improving the throughput by strengthening the weakest link in the manufacturing process.
Gemba (The Real Place)
Gemba is Japanese for ‘the real place’. It basically refers to the ideas that problems are usually visible when you make observations of actions in process. All one needs to do is get out of the office and walk into the plant floor – a place where the real action takes place.
The main aim of this tool is to give a first- hand observation of the manufacturing process by talking with the plant floor employees and thereby instilling a deep and thorough understanding of real-world manufacturing issues.
Also known as ‘autonomation with human touch’ this tool used for the supervisory function. It is designed to partially automate the manufacturing process and automatically stops whenever defects are detected. With this tool not only are the quality issues kept in check, but now the workers can also monitor multiple work stations which will ultimately bring down your labour cost.
Hoshin Kanri (Policy Deployment)
This tool makes it a point that the strategic goals of a company drive action and progress at all the levels within that company. That is each and every unit of the company works and progresses towards achieving the well-defined strategic goal of the organization. This is done by aligning the goals of the company (Strategy), with the plans of middle management (Tactics) and the work performed on the plant floor (Action).
This method does-away with all the waste which occurs due to poor communication and inconsistent directions.
The Pareto graph function on Minitab should be a Black Belt’s best friend. It is quite simply the most effective way of analysing attribute data and finding “quick win” solutions to business problems. The Pareto principle, of course, teaches that 80% of the outputs from any business process result from just 20% of the inputs.
Despite the enormous publicity given to Vilfredo Pareto’s insight in such bestsellers as “The 80/20 Principle” by Richard Koch, it is instructive how infrequently Pareto analysis is used in many business environments. While Koch’s idea of non-linear 80/20 “thinking” is to be applauded, there is no substitute for a quantitative Pareto analysis based on hard data. Nearly every successful project I have been involved with has used Pareto analysis to isolate root causes and remove key sources of variation in a process.
Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)
The FMEA is widely used within manufacturing industry to analyze the root causes of defects, or “failure modes”. Each instance of failure is rated on a scale of 1-10 for its severity (impact), its occurrence (frequency) and its detection (self-evidence). These scores are multiplied together to give a combined score, or Risk Priority Number (RPN). Clearly severe or dangerous impacts are targeted first regardless of RPN.
While this methodology is widely known, it is rarely applied to non-engineering problems and general commercial processes. There is a huge opportunity to move FMEA out of its manufacturing niche and apply it to a wide range of commercial problems. Thus these are some of the basic tools which you can deploy for lean transformation of your organization/ manufacturing unit. You can either use them in isolation or synergize them in order to get better and long lasting results.