Starting to Use Lean Tools to Build Value in Your Company

February 11, 2014

by Laurel Suchecki

Lean tools help you define what your customer values, so you can plan your processes around what truly drives sales: your customers’ needs. The whole idea behind Lean thinking is to free up capacity so you can use it to grow your business. How do you know when you’re ready to start putting some Lean tools in place? How do you start?

The first step is to literally stop and take a closer look at your surroundings. When you gaze out on your production floor, do you find yourself muttering, “There must be a better way…”? Sometimes you can feel uncomfortable with things the way they are, and know they’re not quite how you want them – yet, you still may be unsure what to do about it. If you just don’t feel you have the perspective or experience to find the answers, you’re ready for a Lean consultation.

Is Business Strong, but Cash Tight?

Are you starting to feel like your company has so many great opportunities on its horizon – but you need some better cash flow to capitalize on them? If so, you’re experiencing “Pull”. But all that demand, enticing as it is, still presents a problem: How are you going to produce what your customer is looking for fast enough to satisfy this swell in demand?

Maybe you need to buy more equipment to produce a new product. Or maybe you need to add more staff to position your company to leverage a growth opportunity. Is cash flow so bad you can’t make the next order for raw materials?  Are you losing good employees who feel unappreciated because they’re not involved in planning for growth? Are customers leaving because your quality issues haven’t been resolved?

If your business is experiencing high demand but you can’t meet your cash flow obligations, it’s definitely time to put some Lean tools to work. To provide the right product or service within your customers’ required timeframe, your processes have to be flexible enough to meet fluctuating demand.

Value Stream Mapping as a Guide

value stream mappingValue Stream Map Information FlowA Lean tool called Value Stream Mapping will help you take a 360-degree, holistic look at all of your processes, from the time an order is placed until your product is delivered.

How does everything flow through your administrative areas and production lines? We actually “walk the process” and put any and all previous assumptions aside, to identify what’s actually going on moment by moment.

What does your floor look like? Is there a machine not running? Is work in process all over the place? Is equipment leaking oil?

With so many elements to consider, it’s important to prioritize opportunities. Value Stream Mapping is a very powerful Lean tool that gives you an overview of the issues you have. It determines which of your metrics are tied to the processes that are hurting you the most, so you can focus on what matters most right away.

An objective look at how each of your processes delivers value (or doesn’t!) using Value Stream Mapping gives you a roadmap for the improvements you need to make – the “better way” that eluded you before.

Instead of looking out on the floor and having that vague feeling of “things just aren’t right”, you’ll look out and know you’re working towards delivering quality products or services, at the right time, in the right quantities, at the right price to meet customer demands.

Depending out what your map shows you, there are tools to resolve each issue. But before you even open that tool box even a little you need to sit back, develop a vision and create a training and communication plan.

Everyone needs to know where you are all going, and how they will learn the new skills or techniques to get there.

Generally companies start with the disorganization first, as it is the most visible and, if customers tour your plant, the most embarrassing outward sign of how your company operates.

Getting Organized with 5S

5S makes sense to do first as it calms the chaos and creates a solid foundation for other Lean improvements. 5S drives out a lot of the waste found in Set-ups but there is more to it than just wasted motion. The 5S Program is a Lean method for workplace organization that follows these steps:

  1. Sort out what’s not needed, and bring in what is needed, throughout your workspace.
  2. Set in Order all of the things you use to create work product. Put things where they make the most sense. Categorize each of your tools, and keep a quantity on hand that makes sense.
  3. Shine.  This is more than just getting out the polishing cloth. We help you define what “clean” looks like, and then make sure all of your tools are properly labeled and cleaned. When you are cleaning you also need to inspect your tools and equipment for any repair needs, etc. You are looking for anything that is not normal in the work place.
  4. Standardize all the rules to keep 5S going forward – when will you sort again, what is the schedule for cleaning, what does clean look like, etc.
  5. Sustain this entire process. Also known as Self Discipline, which we all know is the hardest part.  You will need to create some infrastructure around auditing, communication and how continued processes will be attained.

5s organizational method

You’ll reduce labor variances by quickly finding what you need, and you’ll also add capacity by eliminating motion waste of employees wandering. Safety concerns, like broken hoses or fraying electrical cords, will be more visible and easily addressed.

One of the by-products of 5S is that it increases discipline within your workforce. Employees start to say ”I have to meet this standard” because now they’re more clear on what the standards really are. Making the process more visual also helps customers perceive quality as they visit your facility.

Starting your Lean transformation with Value Stream Mapping and some 5S Program organization will give you a good platform from which to launch further Lean initiatives and process improvements.

Lean tools help you define what your customer values, so you can plan your processes around what truly drives sales: your customers’ needs. The whole idea behind Lean thinking is to free up more capacity so you can use it to grow your business. How do you know when you’re ready to start putting some Lean tools in place?

CONNSTEP solved a huge problem for us and helped us bring our delivery rate to 100%. As a direct result of that, we have been awarded with an increase in business which, ultimately, will also benefit (our supplier) Har-Conn.”

CT manufacturer Pegaasus

Chris DePentima

CEO, Pegasus Manufacturing Inc.

“I see great value in the new experiences and perspectives CONNSTEP brings to our business, at reasonable prices. They’re not like consultants, they’re like partners in the business – willing to roll up their sleeves and help.”

AGRussell logo

Mark Burzynski

President, Arthur G Russell Co

“CONNSTEP has proved to be a tremendous resource for ESI. CONNSTEP has helped us to adapt to today’s marketplace and remain a quality minded, competitive global player. Our ISO/TS16949 implementation process was efficient and rewarding. I look forward to our future projects with CONNSTEP.”

esi CT manufacturer

Ron Delfini

President, Engineering Specialties Inc.

“CONNSTEP worked with FuelCell Energy to educate and facilitate Lean initiatives and to help meet our needs to establish an overall production improvement plan. This plan has been utilized over a period of time as a ‘guiding light’ to spur numerous improvements that dramatically reduced our product cost.”

Tom Lucas

Manager, Fuel Cell Energy

“CONNSTEP is a valuable partner to Hologic, providing the expertise and ‘outside eyes’ everyone needs to keep their continuous improvement on track. We are now well-positioned on a dynamic growth path and look forward to a long-term relationship with CONNSTEP.”

Greg Safarik

VP Manufacturing Operations, Hologic

“Our experience working with CONNSTEP has brought us benefits we never expected. It’s a great team to work with!”

Bruce Wheeler

VP of Operations, Metal Finishing Technologies Inc.

“The goals of the team were to reduce manufacturing lead-time, reduce floor space utilized, and increase worker productivity. All the goals were met. CONNSTEP helped us to better compete.”

Tornik CT manufacturer

Dan Rubbo

General Manager, Tornik LLC

“The Business Growth Program is working well for us. We enhanced our website following the meetings to improve our SEO and become more visible to search engines. The segment on negotiating …  promoted changes in our thinking and improved how we interact with customers. The mentoring between sessions was helpful in boosting our progress.”

CT manufacturer Colonial Spring

Bill Lathrop

President, Colonial Spring Co.

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