This article appeared in the October 2019 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
Strong leadership. Lean practices. Continuous learning and improvement. Michigan manufacturers know the value of these three things as well as anyone.
Where would we be without Henry Ford’s strength, vision and passion? Today’s manufacturing leaders must possess Ford’s creativity as well as the charisma and leadership skills to lead diverse workforces. They are leaders of men and women, inspiring them every day to be their best, even as market forces them to adjust and adapt.
Without strong leaders, the backbone of our nation — the manufacturing industry — would struggle.
Ford drastically reduced waste using his assembly line system, but the 1990s Toyota Production System truly perfected the concept of “lean.” Changing how we think about workplace waste was a big business challenge for us before the turn of the century, but is a lesson more and more Michigan manufacturers understand today.
Tour almost any facility today and you’ll see production cells, “5S” workspaces, and teams taking problem solving to the “gemba.” We eliminate waste at a rate saving us hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
The idea of making regular improvements goes by many names — continual improvement, process improvement, process design, quality improvement — but the message is clear; workplace improvements shouldn’t be a one-time thing. It’s not a “flavor of the month.” It’s something constantly happening in a healthy workplace and everyone should be involved.
Why am I not getting better results?
Each component is valuable, but they are not meant to be stand-alone practices:
- Manufacturing is full of examples of leaders with superior vision and leadership skills who led businesses filled with waste. Often, these leaders are very popular with staff but don’t “move the needle.”
- Lean experts are more common than ever, but without their work being supported by leadership they can easily grow frustrated.
- Does your organization resort to layoffs/cuts when sales are down?
- Is measuring “productivity” the most common way to identify cost issues?
- Continuous improvement should be something everyone can get behind.
- Is it embraced by all, or viewed as a disruption?
- Is it a part of everyone’s daily work, or treated as “optional?”
Make the Most of Your Systems
You may have one or a combination of these three components, but without connecting them and building them into the culture, you can miss your potential.
Leaders should view these as three components of the same system. Lean strategies without a supportive culture can only go so far, and they go nowhere without leadership support. Embed lean into your daily culture and treat it like the business lifeblood that it is.
- Engage your team daily.
- Incorporate lean tools into their standard work.
- Learn the forms of waste and embrace the power of standardization.
- Give your staff time to make improvements and remove the political barriers that often prevent lasting improvement.
- Don’t let excuses like, “we are too busy” or “that’s not my job” to stall the culture change.
Your staff is the fuel. Lean can be the engine. Put your team in position to succeed and you’ll be on your way to maximizing your business.