After nearly four years of implementing Lean Manufacturing principles at IWCO Direct, it seems like the perfect time to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned, the positive impact Lean has had for us and our customers, and share some advice we’d give to others who are just beginning their own Lean Journey.
What are some of the biggest accomplishments IWCO Direct has achieved through its Lean Manufacturing efforts?
Implementing Lean has resulted in a number of benefits to our organization. It’s helped us reduce lead times, lower costs, improve quality, increase on-time deliveries, and make substantial reductions in material waste.
We used Lean to develop Standard Work, which has allowed us to standardize and improve processes across people and facilities. Through Standard Work, we have been able to improve quality by knowing everyone is doing things the same way. This has allowed us to more quickly find the Root Cause of issues and eliminate them by retraining employees on the correct processes.
Lean has also enhanced our culture and brought added stability to our organization. Success didn’t happen overnight, but the dedication and commitment our employees bring each day has been vital in our sustained success. They embraced change and knew we were listening.
What hurdles did you face on your Lean Journey?
It was more challenging to engage employees than we initially expected. Everyone had their own way of doing something, and creating a new way caused people to be uncomfortable. We overcame this by getting more people involved in the creation and approval of the new Standard Work.
We also learned we needed to pay close attention to communication and training. Each time something new was rolled out, communicating this change across facilities and getting the same message to everyone was essential. This is still something we are working to fine-tune. We started our journey with one Lean mentor and have since added another. We continue to train and educate more team members to help facilitate and coach our teams.
Looking back, if you knew then what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?
The front line team is a critical part of Lean success. We should have done more to develop teachers and mentors when we first introduced Lean to provide a stronger support system to our employees throughout their journey.
It would also have been better to start out with smaller projects, instead of large Kaizens. A small change that affects one area is easier to introduce and manage. A Kaizen usually affects many different areas, and if everyone in those areas does not understand the change (or the Kaizen Process), it becomes difficult to institutionalize the change.
In addition, Continuous Improvement is the heart of Lean, and we should have made it even more of a priority from the start.
What advice would you give to those who are about to embark on a Lean Manufacturing program?
- 90% of what you are going to do is wrong. Learn from your mistakes; fix them, and move on.
- Educate your managers and supervisors on the principles of Lean prior to introducing Lean practices in production. These leaders need to be equipped with the tools to encourage, motivate and guide their teams in the right direction.
- Use employee ideas. The people doing the work understand it best and know what needs to be done to improve it.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate.
We hope you find these lessons valuable on your own Lean Journey. Please feel free to send me an email if you’d like to discuss further.
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