Lean Manufacturing Is About Your People, Not Tools

Lean manufacturing may be all that you are hearing about as a manufacturing organization or business owner. Yet, business owners who are putting all of their time and attention into lean tools are missing the fundamental key aspect of this movement. It is not just about putting in place a system for getting the work done on the floor. Rather, businesses need to think people, too.

The Mistake So Many Are Making

Going lean is the big goal. Many businesses are being told that by implementing lean tools in their organizations that they are going to see significant improvement and achieve global competitiveness. In fact, there are dozens of authors promising this type of outcome if we just implement lean. They are basing this on the performance results Toyota has achieved with their TPS production system – known for its effectiveness. However, TPS is not just about lean tools. Without the true connection to people, there’s something major missing that’s going to hold you back.

What Is TPS Really?

Two components make the Toyota Production System so ideal. One element is continuous improvement. The second is respect for all people. Yes, it is a simplistic symptom, but that comes from maintaining these two aspects. For those businesses in the U.S., learning about lean tools, such as value stream mapping, poke yoke, and kanban, there is a huge disconnect from what the TPS methodology really is. For lean technology and methods to be effective, there must be a change in culture within the business, too.

What Does This Mean?

To ensure that a business “going lean” is able to succeed at it, they must change their culture and way of thinking when it comes to people. The business owner must trust people within the manufacturing plant to solve problems regardless of where the problem came from. The goal here is that businesses must focus on obtaining a critical mass of people who will act, think and believe lean and rely on them to push the business forward.

Solve problems with a TPS perspective. Here are some examples.

  • Keep hitting your numbers is the old way of thinking. The new is to product only items that the customer has ordered.
  • Avoid too many problems with unions or vendors is the old thinking. The new is never to skip past a problem.
  • Make sure there is plenty of work in the backlog you say with lean focus the goal is to work to continually improve the processes.

Do not let people handle problems alone. Do skip over something that can be handled right now. This changes the job of the plant manager significantly.

The bottom line is that before manufacturing industries focus on lean tools in their business, they need to teach their employees the way of seeing the operation through lean eyes. Be respectful of the team. Teach them. Learn from them. Adapt together to approach a lean methodology.

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