Tag Archives: Performance

Is the start of a Lean Project actually Lean?- darronrobertsconsulting

After the initial scoping meeting with a new client, the next stage is the detailed analysis of the business, the Diagnosis.  If the scope of the project is operations optimisation and the tool to use is Lean Manufacturing, then I analyse the company from their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  Analysing the financial KPIs, profit and costs, the operational KPIs, Safety measures, Output measures, Efficiency measure, Quality measures and People measures.  I sometimes conduct a full business assessment, answering questions as to how the company is setup, the policies and procedures, how it treats its people, how it plans, purchases delivers, develops new products, is concerned with longevity, safety and the environment.

All of the analysis tells me what the company does, not how it does it.  To find the answer to this question requires spending as much time with the managers, supervisor and operators as possible.  There are always three different and sometimes conflicting views between the layers as what is actually happening in the company.  There is nearly always a deficiency in the communication system between the managers and operators.  The manager sends out a message but if it reaches the operator it is different or toned down from the original.  There is also the case of managers and supervisors being in positions from promotions, where they are not qualified to undertake the role and are not aligned with the strategic objectives.  They are doing a job, which is consistent and probably the same way they were trained by their predecessor, but which does not improve the business.

All of the above information leads me to design the project, the topics to be covered, the order of the topics the timescale and the cost of the project.  There are usually topics covered that are nothing to do with Lean Manufacturing, just good operations management and these can cover a quarter of the twelve month project run in parallel and sometimes hidden inside the other project tools.

It is necessary to align sales requirements with planning and planning with operations and the whole system to business needs.  Sounds basic?  Does not always follow as it should.  Assumptions are made that information that is send is used as it is sent, departments have different thoughts on the information and act upon what they think is right, which produces results, apparently shows efficiency but does not align with the business needs.  This is an example of one business, a steel manufacturer. Sales department were working hard to win business in what had turned into a commodity product.  The KPIs from the mill are apparently good, efficiency is in the ninety percent range but delivery performance is in the forty percent range.  There is an Operations Director, Works Manager, Area Production Managers along with Shift Managers to supervise the operators.  There is a Logistics department that contains planners using and ERP system and manual scheduling.  The problem was twofold, the business linked bonus payments to tonnage and the planners took the sales requirements and gave weekly lists to the mills rather than actually planning what was to be produced to deliver on time.  The actual problem was that the mill operators chose what to do in the order they wanted to maximise their earnings.  They used the system to their needs and not the needs of the business.  When these problems were understood and addressed the company became a little less efficient, delivery performance increase, there were more orders, the cash flow system became more efficient, profits increased and the company had a good scheduling and reporting system.

While each case is different, the general problems are quite similar.  The question is why is there no self-improvement?  From personal experience I know that when you are in a position you are blinkered and you are doing what you think is best.  You are performing to the measures and expectations put on you by you manager and change only when these measures, expectations or even manager change.  This should be a Directors role, to align the business to the business strategy, even a manager should assess his performance against the business need.  The other question to be asked is there a strategy?  Not just the vision and mission posted on the wall but a real business plan, implemented to shop floor level.  Why are the training needs of employees not recognised and addressed?  Until there is a crisis are companies happy to continue with what they have.

I have tried to answer some of these questions based on my business experience and have come to the conclusion that businesses are not perfect, even multinationals making vast profits.  These companies could be even more successful if they concentrate on doing some of the basics right before concentration on more advanced business enhancements.

So back to my original question, “Is the start of a Lean Project really Lean?” and the answer has to be no.  It is organising the company, enhancing its communication system, aligning its departments with customer needs and instruction its employees in their duties.


Lean Tools – What is 5S really about? – darronrobertsconsulting

Lean manufacturing is a method of transforming raw materials, whether they are products or services, by adding value, to generate a finished product or service that your client wants to purchase.  It is different to ordinary or traditional manufacturing, because Lean manufacturing aims to give the client value for their money in terms of the specification of the product or service matching their exact requirements, delivered when requested with a consistently high quality level, at the lowest internal cost to you.  Lean manufacturing is not a project!  It is a complete manufacturing process, that when started is refined over time and becomes THE way of thinking and THE way of working.  It is not complicated and aims to simplify the transformation process.

Let me give you an everyday example.  You are out, it is a hot day and you are thirsty, you want to go to the nearest shop and buy a small cold, bottle of water.  When you get to the drinks shop and give the shopkeeper your order, there is a problem, he does sell water, but only 20 litres at a time, it is not cold and you can get it in two days time. Not what you wanted.  A fair analogy of what we do to our customers in our businesses?

So Lean manufacturing aims to reduce problems of quality and delivery and to remove or reduce wastes and costs in the process.  To do this it uses a number of tools, each one aimed at improving one or more of the three problems.  There are basic and advanced tools, of the four basic tools 5S, 7 wastes, Visual Management / Visual Control and Standardised Working, probably the 5S tool is the most misunderstood.

A number of you will have been on Lean or Lean Six Sigma courses, read books on the subject and come across the 5S tool.  The origins of the tool are unknown, but it was taken and developed into the tool we know today in the Toyota Japanese plants.  The 5 essees were originally Japanese words but have now been translated in to English as:


Set in order




You have understood the tool and armed with red tags, sweeping brushes, cleaning cloths, two inch yellow floor tape and a digital camera; you head out to the shop floor and begin your “project”.  You have a briefing session with operators and supervisors of section, explain what you are going to do and off you go.  You put red tags on objects that you think, should not be there, give the sweeping brushes and the cloths to the shop floor workers.  When they have swept the dust away and polished the equipment and removed the tagged items, you begin marking area with yellow tape.  Areas to stand, areas to hold equipment, e.g. hand trolleys, areas for raw materials and areas for processed materials.  You get Engineering involved and produce shadow boards for tools and hang them on the walls behind the machinery.   Pleased with your efforts you take photographs of the area and display them nicely on the walls and instruct the operators that this is what the area needs to be kept like and that you will be round every week to audit the area and give them a score.  You are now doing 5S, covering all the essees, couldn’t be easier!  Then every week you go and audit, find something that is out of place, issue an instruction to correct the non-conformance, and write a management report showing how good the 5S audit scores are.

As time goes on you get into a routine, nothing is improving and you are wondering why you are getting into arguments every week with the operators, who do not see the point in doing their cleaning exercises, which just adds to their workload with no incentive or reward.  Your Lean transformation might be stalling before it has even started or you might have given up on your first building block without fully implementing it because you want to move on to some cost saving activities.

By now you are asking, what this has got to do with improved quality, improved delivery performance and reduced costs.  The answer is absolutely NOTHING!

Let us go back to the 5S, the Japanese version with a correct translation.

Seri (Say ree) – Sort and Discard
Eliminate All unneeded items.

Seiton (Say ton) – Arrange and Order
Arrange all items that are left.

Seiso (Say zo) – Shine and Inspect
Clean all areas.

Seiketsu (Say ket soo) – Standardise and Improve
Maintain the first 3S

Shitsuke (Shee tsoo kay) – Believe and Discipline
Believe that the 5S are important and maintain DISCIPLINE.

5S is a management tool to impose operational discipline into a business, the result usually is a clean and orderly factory.  As I have written previously projects are about people, they are the change agents, involve as many of the shop floor as possible.  Managers usually have a problem with this.  They are, after all, the manager and they should be seen to be doing! Not leave it to someone who is paid to operate a machine.

So do 5S properly!

Sorting is about empowerment, you want the operators, or staff in an office to take responsibility for their work environment.  Explain to them what sorting is, removing anything that should not be there and needs to be removed, if it gets in the way, it is a waste, excess movement etc.  Give them the red tags and let them do the tagging, if there is more than one shift, repeat the process.  If one shift tags and the other shift removes the tag, you have to manage the process and determine if the object is required or not.  After a set period of time, say three days, remove all of the tagged items from the area.  This is where the manager comes in.  Is the item required or is it redundant?  If it is redundant sell it, the money will pay for required items for the next stage or maybe the whole project.

Set in order is about teamwork.  The objects that are left need to be arranged so that there is easy access to them.  For this you will need to work with the operators to design the work area, develop shadow boards,  build / buy draws or cupboards  to keeps the work space useable.  Buy more tools if necessary and put them where they are needed.  Make sure there is easy access for feeding and emptying the process, make their job easier for the operators, they will see the benefit and become more enthusiastic and creative.  We are now starting to reduce wastes, in terms of time, which benefits delivery performance and of money, which obviously benefits costs.

Shine and inspect, I will emphasise inspect, because it is very often missed.  This is about ownership. Operators taking ownership of their work area.  You want a clean process, because if it is clean moving parts will not wear out as quickly, if they don’t wear out as quickly they do not increase variation as quickly, thus you have a more stable process, and consistent quality.  The inspection comes from two aspects.  The operators spend their working day on their process, they can feel vibrations, or hear noises that are not normally there and can inform management that there is a problem before it becomes a breakdown, similar to you driving your car, you know if there is a wobble on the wheel you get it looked at before you blow the tyre!  The object is to bring the process back up to, or keep it in design specification.  The second part is if there are abnormalities they should be easier to spot, oil on the floor, damage to a cover etc.  It is then up to management to action these reports.  This is also an input to a Preventative Maintenance program.

So far so good, this is where many companies actually stop at 3S, because they do not really understand the 4 or 5th essees.

Standardise and improve.  This is purely and simply management.  Management or to be correct the Area Supervisor should develop a Standard Operating Procedure for the first 3S.  Specifying what has to be done, when it has to be done and how it has to be done.  With all procedures the operators have to be trained on the procedure and then managed to perform it.  There has to be concessions on this.  Time off production for 5S, 10 minutes at the end of the shift, checklists to show what has to be done at a particular time and follow up from the supervisor to ensure it happens.  The SOP, like all SOP’s should be reviewed at least at a quarterly basis, improvements through experience and new ideas should be included and the operators retrained in the procedure.

Sustain, believe and discipline.  The audits should be undertaken by the GM, MD, VP or whoever is the senior person in the company.  This sets the idea that the company are taking this very seriously.  The auditor has to congratulate teams that are performing well and admonish teams that are under performing, to the point of disciplinary action if the negative trend continues.

5S is a management tool as I stated earlier, for introducing operational discipline.  If you have ever embarked on a project in the past, and it has failed for some reason and you have tried something else to the point that the workforce think these are just management fads and will go away in a week or so, 5S implemented properly will totally break those ideas.  If you have implemented 5S properly, when you come to introducing new SOP’s through the Standardised Working Process, the new procedures will be implemented quicker and the benefits will gleaned earlier than if you had not. (The operators are now used to following instructions.) So 5S is a tool for making operators do what is required from them when it is required.  As a consequence you will have a clean factory and offices.  Did you know that you can use the 5S technique on your products, processes and people as well as the factory?

This blog was written to give implementers an insight into what 5S is really about and what benefits related to Quality, Delivery and Cost it will give you when implemented properly.  It is the first building block of a Lean manufacturing transformation.

Successful Lean Implementation is satisfying- darronrobertsconsulting

Some consulting projects start quickly from the initial client contact to the project kick off; some take considerably longer.  I first made contact with this current client through an invitation to visit them based on a recommendation of a colleague in a neighbouring business where I had successfully  completed a project; that was September 2008.  After visiting the company discussing the requirements with the owners, interviewing the managers and spending time visiting the shop floor, I produced a proposal for a Lean Manufacturing implementation project.  Various difficulties within the company resulted in the project kicking off in December 2010.  In that time I kept regular contact with them, helped them through different funding options, staff recruitment and gave them advice, knowing that I would win the project when the time was right.

The company is a large manufacturing business producing products for local and multinational F.M.C.G. and food industries. There are five operation processes from raw material conversion to finished product.  Initially, while the company were making big profits, they were inefficient in their production, wasteful of resources, even more wasteful of raw materials and weak on front line management.  The efficiency of the business  was measured in terms of the Key Performance Indicator, (KPI),  Overall Equipment Effectiveness, (OEE), which on a scale of zero to one hundred, they were in the mid-twenties.  Work needed to be done there.

There were two major problems in keeping the efficiency low, the incentive bonus scheme was wrong and the planning was weak.  Operators were getting paid for working at one quarter efficiency and then getting bonus payments on top of this for hitting specified machine speeds.  There was no incentive to improve their productivity, linked to the weak first line supervision, no reason to make them.  The planning issue compounded the inefficiency, planning was basically a weekly  list given to the each department.  The department chose the order that they produced in, which in itself is fine if it is customer focussed, not fine when it was used to make the operators lives which were easy, even easier.

My projects are based on people, many companies are more than willing than willing to spend millions on equipment and then neglect their most valuable assets, their people, this company were no different.  The project starts with interactive workshops, for management and for supervisors, producing the same results with the message delivered in different ways.  So the project begins in earnest “Top Down – Bottom UP”  Managers have to start managing and taking responsibility for the business; the supervisors have to start interacting with the shop floor operators and implementing the new Lean ways of working.

We taught the basics of Lean Manufacturing, the building blocks of continuous improvement, 5S, 7 wastes, Visual Control / Visual Management and Standardised Working, one at a time in a focussed area.  The learning’s were rolled out to the rest of the plant when tangible results had been gained.  Also introduced was a business scorecard to measure five KPIs.  Each of these KPIs were given an owner, responsible initially for measuring and displaying the data.   This was not as easy as it sounds, the senior management wanted us to improve them, but they were not giving really getting involved, the were watching from a distance.  So in this case I could not create a crisis.  There were times when there were mutinies, actions were not being completed because supervisors did not see the value in making operators do different things to what they currently were doing!  What was really happening was that they were unable to manage their people.  This is where Management Consultants are required, shop floor actions, me doing what I was asking the operators to do, easy.  Then reinforcement, follow up and measurement.

After the basics had been partially implemented, the measured KPIs were moving in the right direction and there was more of a culture of acceptance of new ideas, the management took a big step and altered the incentive bonus system.  They did not go as far as they needed  to do but increased the set targets. This was an improvement, but needs revision at a later date.

So I have just conducted the third quarter review.  The efficiency has more than doubled.  I will expand this, there is more than twice the amount of finished goods produced in the same time, with the same resources!  This means that the fixed cost per product is halved.  One of the five process has been totally eliminated by a team modifying a previous process.  There is a real twenty-five percent reduction in the manufacturing lead time.  The expanded set of KPIs are improving, there are enhanced business systems, the ISO procedures are actually implemented and used not just stuck on a shelf collecting dust.  Managers are starting to manage and supervisors are now active in the operation and developing and improving the business.   The Return On Investment, (ROI), for the cost of the project was less than six months!

The is still much to be done, the next step is for the company to take control of the planning system.  They have to use their visual management system to monitor the performance hour by hour and take action when there are problems.  This allied to the fact that the senior managers are now getting involved in the project will give a huge boost to the company’s efficiency.

So back to the title, “Successful Lean Implementation is satisfying”, it gives me great pleasure to see business take on board the consulting advice that I give them and really improve their business.  I am not a consultant that does everything for the client, I am a consultant that teaches the client to do things for themselves, guided of course , in the direction that I want them to take.  The biggest joy is seeing the people develop both personally and professionally.  I had to work hard to win this project, saying that, the results so far were well worth the effort.