Last time we discussed lean manufacturing and applying it to factory floor processes. This time we’ll discuss applying it to other parts and processes of a manufacturing entity.
The primary goal for any business is making a profit. The factory floor and processes which are huge portions of manufacturing companies, however, are not profit centers, they are cost centers. This cost is a variable that may but probably does not carry over to all aspects of a company. To work on an enterprise level, mechanisms must evolve that foster lean principles. But, because a factory floor and a business as a whole have different problems, different requirements, different ways of thinking, just having the mechanisms in place for lean principles isn’t enough. Also in many cases what works on the factory floor may not necessarily translate and work in other parts of a company. Buy in by all parts of an enterprise is an absolute necessity for lean principles to work.
For applying lean principles throughout a company, it helps to think of an office as analogous to a factory, only the main product it creates is paperwork or digital information. Like raw materials that are transformed to a finished product, paper and information also go through a series of process steps, but end up spending the majority of its life waiting for someone in the chain to act on it. One of the most applicable areas of lean principles in paperwork and digital information is rework where the wrong data has been entered or is missing – error proofing.
Acceptance of lean principles is not always universal, but resistance is often a matter of misunderstanding. For example, there is a perception by some that all lean principles do is reduce inventory and employment levels. Actually that is a misperception because ideally, lean principles can unlock workers’ hidden talent and increase their capabilities to improve the overall business.
The place where it all began, Toyota, has been hard at work to extend its TPS to other parts of its business beyond the factory floor. However, it’s proving to be a challenge dealing with non-physical inputs and outputs, and protracted time frames with multi-year product development cycles. Indications are, though, that the company is making progress in its Japanese and North American facilities.
The biggest challenge for any manufacturer trying to adopt lean principles is to deploy it beyond the factory floor. While an increasing number of manufacturers are succeeding in applying lean principles on the factory floor, applying them to the balance of the organization still has a long way to go.