Implementing Lean is Hard; Sustaining Lean is Harder

As we look back over the last 12 months, can you seen where you’ve been? Continuous improvement and implementing Lean methodologies have been our focus. We’ve had workshops and done factory layouts, moved cells and stores around, cleaned up, implemented a kanban system, put in visual controls. We’ve had a good year; production numbers up, respectable profits in the current climate, quality not too bad. But what about our “Lean numbers”; how did we go there? Are you being held accountable for those?

When we start on our lean journey, often we realise that something must be done to address the problems in our company and we need to change. Senior management is excited, a reputable lean consultant is hired and we’re away. Organising workshops and gathering data are often assigned to the already overburdened production managers. But somehow change begins and initial improvements are looking good; we’ve got people thinking about work flowing through value chains across the company and about the importance of an organised and safe workplace. We can start to “see” our production status at the cell level through visual displays and people are starting to use the same language.

If we’re doing really well, we may have started addressing the real source of quality issues and part shortages. This, of course, is hard work – we begin to ask the hard questions and need to get people from a range of support functions to help us find the answers. The factory floor, and hopefully a few offices, are starting to make good gains and look great.

So fast forward 12 months… a supervisor has left and the stores team has grown quickly and you suddenly realise that all of that great Lean work you had done had fallen away and only remnants remain. Sustaining your Lean gains and continually improving on them is the hard part of all lean implementations.

At TXM, we see it all of the time. Good work that wasn’t sustained. People moving around and the new guys not understanding the tasks they need to complete each day and each week. Production quality problems or large orders causes us to set aside any extra tasks for the short term and they aren’t picked up again when things settle down.

Over the next few weeks we will look at the three keys to sustaining, and continuing to improve, a healthy production system.

Robert Chittenden

Author: Robert Chittenden

Robert Chittenden is a Senior Lean Consultant at TXM Lean Solutions