There are many ways to build a competitive advantage, but using Lean will get to the core of your business and its ability to generate cash efficiently. Lean thinking is not a set of tools, a set of procedures to follow, or a series of logical steps. Lean is a thought process, a culture, and belief system. So the most important thing is how to change the thinking in your organization so that lean happens. This article is about how to create a lean competitive advantage.
To build your lean competitive advantage you must understand the lean energy flow of your organization, examine your own thinking processes, and your business operations. It is only then that you are ready to tackle your business problems heard-on.
With lean process improvement, Instead of looking at how to change a situation from the outside, we examine it from the inside to discover its potential energy and find the lean energy flows. In other words, we need to determine the natural forces of flow or the starting point position of the situation and then use this flow to achieve the results we desire.
There are many common misconceptions about lean. For example, the focus in lean is not on the lean tools, but instead our own thinking of what the customer needs, wants, and values. We look for ways to build flexibility into the system to handle the variation in customer demand instead of forcing the customer to fit their demand into our system.
Lean thinking is doing more with less. We look for solutions that increase flexibility and create a more agile system. Finding ways to continuously remove waste, steps in a process, or people. Your thinking governs your performance. So, if you fail to change your thinking, you have failed to truly implement lean.
Lean and Six Sigma are similar in understanding that when we start with the right goals, we are working towards the right answers. The result is to end up with the right solution to the right problem. If you understand the flows inside your organization then you are half-way to thinking lean. The other half is to understand how to use those flows and the lean tools to achieve your goals. That is the power of position goals and lean thinking together.
Precoat Metals is a leading provider of metal coating services. A lot of their production process is geared around painting large coils of raw steel or aluminum so they were not very far along on their lean journey. The pre-painted coils will later be stamped or cut into pieces and assembled into products by their customers. Precoat Metals has always been focused on serving customer needs, but the demands of a rapidly changing market place were starting to put a strain on their manufacturing capabilities.
The problem was that, even though Precoat had a continuously running production line capable of changing coating types and colors on the fly, they were not able to conduct change-overs as fast as they wanted. The market place was demanding smaller orders, less inventory, and a broader variety of colors and coating types, which meant more frequent change-overs.
Change-over speed was not an issue when customers wanted fewer color and metal choices, but the demand for smaller quantities of a wide product assortment was jeopardizing their ability to maintain their continuous line rate. It was time to implement lean thinking to solve the problem.
Bizmanualz consultants began with an analysis of the current process. Data was collected on all the steps, equipment, and ancillary issues required for change-overs. The entire process was mapped and analyzed in order to find areas for improvement.
Precoat could have avoided the change-over issue by queuing production orders until there could be longer runs of the same color, but that would have meant a longer turn-around time for orders. Avoiding the issue did not match their business philosophy of serving the customer. They turned to Bizmanualz for help.
Waste and unnecessary actions were identified and eliminated, some steps were combined, and a control panel was moved. Then training and documentation ensured consistency among different operators. Average change-over times decreased from about 13 minutes to about 5 minutes.
A lean competitive advantage comes from mastering lean. A few 5S Kaizen projects will not produce a competitive advantage. Lean mastery requires a dedication and discipline just like a professional sport, the Olympics, or a concert virtuoso. Most people do not want to put in the hard work that it takes to join the 1% club. Today the kids in America do not want to go into science and engineering because it is too hard. It is easier to move manufacturing to China than to implement lean mastery.
Lean is a path to world class status. It should be sold to your organization based on being the best and not based on saving some money on a project basis. People that are focused on being the best will do whatever it takes t and will receive the rewards that being the best delivers.
People focused on money are involved in the politics of money, which is not what lean is about. Lean can save a few dollars, which is what the surveys show. But, saving a few dollars is not lean mastery. Dominating your industry is lean mastery and that is worth more than a few dollars.
To learn more about using process improvement programs for your organization, attend the next Implementing Lean Thinking class. Call for information on having your own private in-house classes today.