YMB Consulting Process Improvement Consultant

Shouldn’t I be Standardizing Which Lean Manufacturing Tools I use?

by / Monday, 16 March 2015 / Published in Latest posts, Lean Management
YMB Consulting Process Improvement Consultant Sackville, Moncton, Halifax, Montreal, Boston, New York

When Are Lean Manufacturing Tools Poorly Used?

As a Lean Manufacturing Consultant, I work with a lot of different companies and it seems like each one of them has standardized the use of a different lean manufacturing tool. Some companies use value stream mapping, One-Less-At-A-Time, 5S, Poka-Yoke and other strictly focus on  their pull system. I think that if your company only uses a couple lean manufacturing tools across the board, that you are missing out on bigger improvements by ignoring the waste that is unique to each one of your departments.

Should I standardize which lean manufacturing tools I use?

Although I do not believe that standardizing lean manufacturing tools across each department of your company is the proper approach, I still believe you can standardize your improvement process and that your lean manufacturing initiative should have a leader. Whether you choose an in house resource or a lean manufacturing consultant, the key is to make sure that the continuous improvement leader is experienced in the application of several different types of lean manufacturing tools in different environments. This person should start their initiative by ensuring everybody in the company has been trained in the lean manufacturing fundamentals. The most important aspect of this lean manufacturing training is that everybody at least understands the differences between value added activities and wasteful ones. These are defined as follows:


In lean manufacturing, Value is defined as a product or service provided to the customer at the right time, the right price as defined in each case by the customer. When reviewing your process you should ask yourself: “Are we transforming the product or service in a way that is adding value to the customer?”, if the answer to that question is no, then the step you are looking at is waste.

There are seven different types of waste, these are:

  • Overproduction
  • Inventory
  • Defects
  • Non-Value added processing
  • Waiting
  • Excess Motion
  • Transportation

This is where having an experience continuous improvement leader is very valuable, this person should know how to train staff on most of the lean manufacturing tools and know when to apply them based on the waste present. Once your staff is trained on the fundamentals, I recommend the following approach:

1. Conduct Waste Observations in the targeted area with the team

It is very easy for a lean manufacturing consultant or continuous improvement leader to see the waste and immediately jump to solutions, however not involving the entire team is a huge mistake. The continuous improvement leader should conduct waste identification exercises with the team, preferably on the production floor. I’m a firm believer in including 1 or 2 men from Mars in each of these events (employees from other departments), in many cases they will see the waste better than many employees in the cell and question the process much more. The biggest challenge is to ensure that you make it clear that this is a waste identification exercise, and that all waste should be identified, even if the team believes that they can’t remove it.

2. Measure the waste present

Once you and your team have finished conducting the initial waste observation exercise it is important that you Pareto the waste that you have just observed by measuring it. This can be done many ways, but my personal favourite is using the instantaneous observation technique, which is to do a few short Gemba walks each day and tally the waste that you see. Doing this technique for a few weeks will give you a good idea of the current state of your area and will not skew the results as much as a time study. My least favourite technique is to get the  employees in the areas to tally the waste as it occurs, as in my experience many things are missed using this technique which could cause you and your team to focus on the wrong issues. If you want to use the tally in combination with the instantaneous observation or a time study, then only implement your tally for a short period of time (2 to 4 weeks at the most).

3. Train your staff on the appropriate lean tool for the situation

If the area you are focusing on has a lot of inventory and still uses a push system, then you should focus on pull system and value stream mapping training. What happens when the pull system is already in place? You will need to focus on the lean manufacturing tools that deals best with the waste that was measured. In some cases your focus should simply be on the assembly process itself which could be full of waste excess motion, non-value added processing or you could have a big defect problem.

 4. Let the solutions come, don’t be scared to try

After your team has identified the waste and they have been properly trained in all the applicable lean or problem solving tools, then you need to focus on brainstorming changes that would reduce or eliminate the waste. Although the lean manufacturing leader should hold a structured brain storming session with the team to work on possible solutions, this session should not occur immediately after the training. I find it very productive to have a least one week between sessions to give the team members time to think and brainstorm by themselves. During this time, I also find it useful to approach the team members one on one as not everybody will be comfortable in speaking up in front of a group.

The biggest advise I can give you at this stage, is don’t be scared to try ideas that could give you a big return, do not require any capital investment and a lot of people believe will not work. I have had many examples of improvement efforts that have been tremendously successful because we tried to implement these type of ideas and they worked! The role of the lean manufacturing leader is to push the team to try these type of ideas out, what do you have to lose? In some cases the idea may not work, but may lead to another one that will, think of it as the iterative prototype approach and don’t be scared to fail.

Hopefully this blog will give you some ideas that can help your improvement effort. If your company is located in the greater Moncton area, or any of the maritime provinces, and you would like to work with an experienced Lean Manufacturing Consultant, contact me by clicking hereIf you can find out more about my consulting services by clicking hereIf you like this blog and would like to read some of my other blogs, check out my blog by clicking here.