What is Lean?
Lean is a philosophy that uses a set of tools and management culture to change the way an organisation operates. It can be summed up as:
“The continuous commitment to deliver products and services to the customer, of the highest quality at the least possible cost”.
To start living the above philosophy requires a number of elements:
- A set of tools to facilitate the quality and cost reduction elements
- A continuous effort to create dissatisfaction with anything other than perfection and the attitude to get as close to perfection as possible
- The support of senior management to affect the introduction of the tools, their application and a shift in the organisations culture and attitude to management.
What are Lean Tools?
Specific Lean tools are used for very specific purposes so, as with any tool-box it is essential to have the right range and the competence to use them.
Tools can only be applied properly if there is a context and an understanding of what needs to be achieved. We therefore need to understand of two things:
- What the problems are
- Which Lean tools or techniques can address them.
Problems are not always well defined, so establishing the definition and then knowing which tools will help solve specific problems is vital. An holistic understanding of the Lean model is therefore key. This can be achieved by bringing in external experts for a short period of time.
Brief training on the tool is needed, so that people using the tool can understand the theory and receive the technical skills of implementation followed by the practical application.
Some of the popular Lean tools used are:
7 Wastes – Waste in Lean terms is anything that does not add value to your product or service. The seven wastes are a relatively simple concept but very powerful when applied systematically. Every process is likely to have examples of every waste, the skill comes in identifying them and then reducing them. They are:
- Failures and rework
- Excess processing
5S – The tool takes staff teams through a series of 5 stages each beginning with the letter ‘S’. 5S can be applied in a physical workplace or any electronic environment where information is stored and provides an easy way of achieving change in any setting. There are many benefits associated with the creation of a visual workplace and implementing 5S, these include reduced levels of waste, saved time, improved safety, increased productivity and greater job satisfaction. The 5s’ are:
- Sort – Sort the things you need to do your jobs from the things you don’t
- Set – Arrange the things you need in the right place
- Shine – Inspect the things you have to ensure they are fit for purpose
- Standards – Create standards for your sort, set and shine (how often should you inspect, labelling etc)
- Sustain – Create an audit to regularly review and correct deviations from your standards, update standards when required.
Information centres – This tool improves communication and performance within and across teams by using visual measures, either on boards, walls or if those are not possible, electronically. It is a focal point for a team, capturing key measures, problems, and ideas – and is the team’s most important information made visible. Each day a short, focused meeting is held (5-10 minutes), during which the team, led by an individual, talks through key information such as performance, problems and the day’s actions.
Value Stream Mapping – A Value Stream Map (VSM) is used to produce a visual map of the ‘current state’ of a process and is also used to produce the ‘future state’ of the same process. It involves using brown paper and post-it notes to enable those involved in the process to create a full end-to-end map of what actually happens, problems, data and ideas for improvement. The current state map is used for analysis purposes whereas the redesigned future state is used for reference and communication.
Master Schedule – A Master Schedule is a simple but powerful Lean management tool, used for planning and monitoring. It is a Lean transformation plan that is set in the context of all other changes and events happening across an organisation. It is developed as one of the outputs of a Lean diagnostic, and is built by the Senior Management Team in line with business strategy and objectives, Master Schedules are cascaded throughout the organisation, from CEO to front-line. Master Schedules also provide a yardstick against which any transformation programme can be measured.
How can I use Lean Tools?
Lean is about rapid implementation of change, involving staff completely in the change process rather than employing experts to come in and ‘do change’ to staff. It is inclusive, challenging and uses a wide set of analysis, improvement and implementation tools, which are simple to learn and use.
Ad Esse Consulting are Lean experts. We have delivered many millions of pounds of savings and have done so in a way that leaves our Lean Foundation tools in place to establish the culture of continuous improvement and positive challenge. Using the tools may be easy, achieving the permanent culture change is not. We do not see improvement as a one-off project activity, but a way of life for everyone in the organisation – that is true Lean.