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By LauraLee Rose, Missouri Enterprise Program Manager

Not too long ago, I thought our Lean work was done. Everyone had heard about it, most had tried it, and it seemed to have run its course. We packed away our Lean 101 simulation kits and turned to try to find the “next big thing” for manufacturers. 

Turns out I was wrong. There has been a huge interest in Lean lately, and I hope it’s because of the scarcity of manufacturing workers that has grown to crisis proportions in the US – and which is predicted to get much worse before it gets better. With more than two million manufacturing jobs expected to go unfilled in the next 5-10 years, reducing waste and converting more labor to value-added work – work that the customer is willing to pay for – could be the answer to the workforce woes.

In the last several months, we’ve offered several of Lean 101 simulations which involve hands-on experiences with some of the basic lean tools. The first round is typical of most traditional manufacturing companies, slightly exaggerated, perhaps. The participants assemble working circuit boards and financial metrics are collected each round. After learning the eight wastes, the students identify what wastes are present at suggest improvements. It’s absolutely my favorite training to do, and I truly love watching the light bulbs come on as the day goes on.

So why are we filling classes now? I’m actually not sure, but I have a couple of ideas. Some have dabbled in it and are sending others in their organizations to learn about it too. Others have tried lean and didn’t see immediate results so went back to the way they have always done things. I think there are those who believe that just going to a 1-day training class can get them where they need to be.

At the risk of using a very over-used cliché— “Lean is truly not a destination. It’s a journey”.  And while most of its concepts are very simple, implementing it is NOT easy. And it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. It requires so much discipline, repetition, and hard work to make it work. It has to happen every day and become the way people think: “Where’s the waste and what can I do about it”.

(Caption: Here are the folks who graduated last week from our last Lean Simulation/Workshop of the year. With SEVEN classroom-packed lean workshops offered throughout the year, we certainly got LEAN in 2018!) 

For example, one of the foundational lean tools we teach, and one of the places we suggest you start is with a 5S program. This is much more than housekeeping as some people believe and is truly about organizing the work space so everything you need on a regular basis can be located quickly and easily and stays that way. I use my teenage son as a great illustration of how easy the first 3 S’s—sort, set in order, and shine (or sweep or scrub) -- can be taught and practiced. If your teenager is like mine, their room is not exactly spic and span. I ask class participants about their teenager’s room, and 80-90% of them reply that their kids’ rooms are like my kid’s room. The biggest offense is clothes on the floor. So, we convince (read bribe or threaten) the kid to pick up their clothes, SORT clean from dirty, SET IN ORDER the clothes into the correct drawers (socks in one drawer, jeans in another, hoodies somewhere else), and SHINE (“this is how a vacuum works son”). Sometimes you can even get some things STANDARDIZED. But by the next week, what does the room look like? Chaos again. See it’s the SUSTAIN or fifth S we can’t seem to overcome. Because it takes discipline and accountability. I tell my son that just 5 minutes every day to throw his dirty clothes in the vicinity of the hamper and put his clean clothes (that I have washed and folded) into the correct drawers, will save him a half day of pain every time I force him to clean his room. It’s a very simple concept, but’s it’s not easy to do.

While Lean 101 is a great first step, participating in it won’t automatically make your organization “lean”. But embarking on the lean journey will help you reduce waste which means your employees can spend their time on value-added work – doing things that add value to the product for which your customers are willing to pay. And that increased efficiency can mean fewer worries about some of the workforce issues facing American manufacturers today.

If you are interested in learning more about lean, contact your Area Business Manager