The Development of Lean Based Production Systems

by | Iter Insights

Lean Based Production Systems

lean based product systems featured image

Over the past two years we have partnered with several businesses in developing lean-based production systems. This work is always challenging and fascinating and has delivered significant performance improvements, generated step changes in the way client businesses operate as well as providing one surprise that we’d like to share.

In delivering a production system our clients have looked to replace a series of individual, localised operating approaches (that typically worked when the business was smaller and served local markets) with a single global operating standard as a catalyst for global optimisation and future growth. Their objectives being clear – design a standardised and integrated of working that deliver high levels of flexibility, service and efficiency.

Our structured Production System Design approach analyses all sites and operations and then – working in partnership with our clients – designs and implements a production system that reflects best practice in a way that meets the business dynamics and culture.

It will come as no surprise that SMED, 5S and TPM are core elements of any system, with additional elements being added to meet clients’ requirements, capabilities and implementation capacity.

In parallel, we place great emphasis on using the strengths of a client’s culture to leverage the engagement and commitment of the widest possible group; as one client succinctly put it as “it’s about engaging and empowering the 700 not just the 7 senior managers”. This delivers fundamental and sustainable change rather than tactical productivity improvements.

Three key activities working together are required to make this happen – Employee Development, Visual Performance Management and Structured Problem Solving each of which we consider below:

Employee Development

Too often this is seen as a series of training activities focussing on technical skills. Whilst this is important, it fails to consider how change and momentum can be established. Much is made of having a senior champion and whilst this is essential, our experience is that team leaders and their immediate managers are the ones that make this “real” day-by-day. The skills they need are usually less technical and more about the ability to define priorities and having the leadership and facilitation skills to engage their team in using their newly acquired problem-solving skills, but more about that later …

Even with these skills, it is critical that the team leaders are empowered to structure time out of the working day to work with a problem-solving team, have a budget they can use without further approval, and are free to reward success.

Structured Problem Solving

Our analysis with our clients shows about 85% of problems are small, local and easily solved and yet, as senior managers we often focus on the big wins that are complex, costly and often don’t fully deliver. These small improvements usually fall below the management radar so along with empowering shop floor teams, our approach provides simple problem-solving skills to a critical mass of shop floor employees and they then make the changes that work for them.

Whilst each improvement is small, collectively they make a huge difference in performance and more importantly grow in belief and passion when everyone makes a difference.

Visual Performance Management

This final part of the jigsaw makes sure priorities are clear and understood, that improvement is focused on targeted benefit areas, and problems are escalated when the issue is more complex than the local team alone can address. It also recognises the success and publicly promotes achievements.

Too often we see a well-structured “tiered” visual management system where the focus is predominantly on short-term performance. Whilst this is clearly essential, long-term benefit comes from the empowerment of local teams to improve operations and recognise their achievements when they deliver.

In summarising, we thought illustrating an unexpected benefit would be useful. After operating a production system for a few months, a client told us that their email traffic had dropped significantly and every meeting was more efficient as a direct result of the production system. When challenged the reasons were clear – everyone knew what was happening and operational issues had been dealt with. We’ll take that as success!

Tim Richardson
Development Director
Iter Consulting