After a series of meetings with upper management, everyone became acclimated to the concepts of lean manufacturing and understood why lean is so important. So far, the journey was very positive and rewarding. The plant manager, through his personal commitment to the vision, had generated a sense of passion in upper management, a critical factor in these early stages. With everyone committed, the next item on the agenda was training.
Visual management was the first training to take place. Visual management is a philosophy that outlines the importance of making a work area more organized and less cluttered visually so that workers can see problems more quickly and react sooner to rectify them. The company had selected two managers to attend the workshop. That was a mistake. When you train employees on the concepts of lean manufacturing, it is important to involve many people, from various departments. In this way, the trained individuals can return to their respective departments and train additional employees. These trained employees will then be able to lead your lean improvement efforts.
The plant manager sent the production manager, the engineering manager, and me to the visual management workshop. After the training, we returned to the plant, excited about all we had learned. The workshop focused on 5S and the visual workplace. 5S, the key foundational lean practice, is a philosophy of organization and cleanliness that should be implemented across a company. The five S’s are sort, straighten, scrub, standardize, and sustain. Although the trainer never used the term 5S, I knew exactly what she was emphasizing. I realized that 5S was not only needed on the factory floor but also had to be one of the very first initiatives.
The next round of training focused on value stream mapping, an extremely useful tool. In this practice, a team creates a map of the current state of a specific process or area; eventually these current state maps are used as part of a kaizen event to implement lean improvements. The consulting company hired by X-Corp conducted this training, as well as the reinforcement activities. In contrast with the visual management training, this time X-Corp filled the room with every manager, engineer, and line lead available.
Everyone was quite engaged in the training, and multiple teams were dispatched across the plant to perform the exercises. Once again, everything seemed to be moving in the right direction from a project management perspective.
When the two-day on-site workshop concluded, each team presented its findings, showing areas of waste that needed to be removed or significantly reduced. There was plenty of opportunity for improvement. Most of the current state maps identified issues with inventory, supplier lead times, overproduction, and excessive wait times in the stockroom. The production lines also had ample room for improvement, but the biggest opportunity was outside of manufacturing. Even so, a decision was made to redesign the assembly lines first and postpone improvements in order processing and inventory.
Based on this decision, X-Corp shifted gears, scheduling an on-site time study as well as data collection training, which I considered to be the nuts and bolts training for the journey. Although I was not completely disappointed with the company’s decision and change of focus, I would have preferred to see some effort devoted to inventory issues. It would take time to resolve the inventory problems and supplier issues, but I thought one team could have started working on that area. No matter how much X-Corp refined its production lines, if there was an insufficient quantity of good-quality parts, operations could shut down. Although I felt strongly about this, I embraced the decision and maintained my passion for the journey as we proceeded to the task of data collection.
Data collection training went very well. X-Corp registered a lot of employees for the on-site training. The instructor taught everyone how to perform time and motion studies and how to identify waste-removal opportunities from the collected data. Having conducted hundreds of time studies before my employment with X-Corp, I knew how critical the information was for implementing lean manufacturing and removing waste.
The training class was divided into six groups. After one-half day of training, the groups were sent to the production floor to conduct the studies. X-Corp had chosen to send the same people who had participated in the value stream training—a wise decision. Each team was assigned to the process for which it had created current state maps.
I was assigned as the leader for the engine line team. There were four models of engines, each distinguished by a handful of options. The engine, hoses, valves, clamps, and other main components of the engine were all standard. The team gathered the necessary assembly information for each of the four models.
The assembly line was quite long and allowed the buildup of work in process (WIP). It was obvious that single piece flow should be implemented to resolve this issue. In single piece flow, products are built or assembled one at a time. A single unit is allocated per workstation, with no units allowed to accumulate between workstations. The team also noted that the line operators often left their workstations for non-work-related activities such as taking extra breaks, chatting with passersby, checking personal cell phones, and so on. The team recognized that there were many opportunities for improvement.
X-Corp appeared to be headed on the right path. The plant manager’s demonstration of passion and commitment had set the right tone for the journey. The organization was now trained on three major lean topics: visual management, value stream mapping, and data collection. At this point in the game, we were ready for our first kaizen event.