One of the most challenging issues one can face while becoming a Lean worker, is that the management will not buy in for a number of reasons. Lucky for you and me, Lean isn’t just a management decision. One can become Lean without too much support of the senior management.
This article is the first of a series I intent to write while becoming Lean. I will nowhere say that it is how it should be done, merely an overview of my personal achievements, based on situations where no Lean coach is available. It is about how and where I started, not where I intend to end.
Open up to it
A good way to start is by open your mind to new ways of working and improving your productivity. Experiment a bit in your own working place, without affecting the company’s way of work. After that, start gaining theoretical knowledge. There are a lot of books on lean, so I would recommend some basic books on lean. A word of warning here: lean working is started in manufacturing, so if you are in services, I would recommend to focus on books on lean thinking first. The examples may be derived from a manufacturing process, but the philosophy and the ‘why’ is often better explained. Elsewhere in this website, there are a number of books already mentioned.
Lean is a long term way, so don’t go for the quick wins. When applying lean thinking and working, you will soon enough experience profitable changes like more time to do your work or do more in the same amount of time and more customer satisfaction. Don’t expect celebrations on your account, this is not why you want to become a lean thinker. Customer satisfaction is the highest achievement in this setting.
I have started by defining what my customers (both the colleagues next in line and the end users of the product and service) wanted and needed to perform good. By looking at this customer demand, I was able to define some sort of value stream map (although not too detailed; I am working on this). This provided me with information on where I stand in the organization, what I should deliver, when and to whom. By constantly redefining customer demand, based on the situation and who is asking, I am able to provide the service needed when it’s needed and at the right amount.
In a logistics setting, I was appointed the task of keeping track of the shipments of a specific key account customer. For this, I did not only register the shipments in the specific computer system, I also had to keep a shadow tracking system in MS Excel. I started with defining the correct colors for shipments (black = incoming for that day, green = shipped correctly, orange = needs attention, red = defect shipment). My first kaizen activity in this company. Very simple and very visual (kanban).
From this datasheet, I was able to create reports whenever needed, to look for trends in the shipments (which helped me with heijunka, leveling out the work load) and the number of correct shipments usually met the agreed KPI level or higher.
At that time, it seemed like nonsense to me to create a shadow datasheet, until there were some issues on the billing. Thanks to the shadow datasheet, my superiors were able to retrack the differences between shipments according to the appointed system and the actual shipments. All discrepancies were accounted for.
I also went daily to the gemba, the warehouse and discussed with the warehouse staff and manager to ensure that all the shipments were handled correctly. Usually, I was there when shipments arrived or departed, visually checking the state when requested; the first visual check was always performed by the warehouse staff themselves. They relocated the shipping lane more to the front of the warehouse (cross dock shipments, day 1 in, day 2 out) to minimize the transport time and length. It was total teamwork.
When I left the company, the customer was not pleased at all. Shortly after, I heard that they left the company I worked for. I do not know why.
My trap: I have learned to search deeper and collect more information than initially may be needed. This can be categorized as overprocessing (collecting more information than needed for a specific request) and inventory (storing more information than needed for a specific request). I have yet to learn how to improve this.
The local management let me be, for they saw the customer satisfaction improved and I never heard anything about increased local costs. I consider myself very lucky here that the management did not interfere in my efforts to improve my work. It took me over a year from the start to the point as mentioned in the example. So again: go slow but consistent.