Lean thinking and culture

Many have seen the success lean manufacturing can have on a company’s bottom line. Toyota Motor Corp. is one of the greatest implementers of lean and knows how culture can significantly increase a company’s productivity. I am not going to preach whether you should do lean or not, nor try to teach it here.

Rather, I want to ask you: “What are you doing every day in your organization to improve your bottom line?” In today’s highly competitive world, you must plan and hire the best people to make it happen.

Faster, better, cheaper

So here’s my definition of lean: a systematic approach to identifying and eliminating waste (or non-value-added activities) through continuous improvement by flowing the product or services supplied by the company at the pull of the customer in the pursuit of perfection.

Essentially, get rid of waste and maximize resources. Waste includes intellect, motion, rework and scrap, processing, waiting, inventory, transportation and overproduction. Lean works, and can be applied to manufacturing, distribution, the service industry and health care.

The key to lean is developing ideas from the bottom up, starting with a lean culture from the top down. The top has to walk the talk daily. The top must champion lean and endorse the program. The front lines must have the authority and responsibility to make decisions to improve productivity. The top must make sure everyone buys into the culture. Call it lean, call it waste reduction, call it faster, better and cheaper.

A better team concept

We officially adopted lean in 2005, yet we had been practicing its tenets for the past 20 years. Our goal was to increase our productivity and lean was going to be our methodology to create a better team concept.

VMS initially trained 30 lean champions. The champions trained the rest of the staff three months later. It took two years to finally feel that we had made the cultural change. We knew we were successful when we eliminated two roadblock personalities that stopped change from occurring:

  1. Blockheads. Blockheads come to work every day and demand to do the same thing every day. Change isn’t part of their mantra. In fact, they are scared to death of change and will not process it. They stop others around them from changing. They cannot be converted and must be eliminated from the playing field.
  2. But Heads. But Heads are people who will listen to an idea and the first word out of their mouths is “but.” Change scares them, but they can be converted.

We knew we were on the right path when VMS won a 2008 Smart Business Evolution of Manufacturing Award for our lean program. We had proven productivity improvements during a down economy — implementing lean helped our company remain stable and profitable. In 2013, Smart Business once again recognized VMS for our sustainability and lean manufacturing excellence.

Don’t worry about what you call your productivity improvement program, just start one. Lean is simple and it works.

Dolf Kahle is CEO of Visual Marking Systems Inc. He has spent the past 32 years building VMS into one of the premier graphic providers nationwide for the OEM product identification (decals, labels, overlays), vehicle graphics, transportation and Point of Sale markets.