5 Tips to Create a Lean Manufacturing Team

You can’t have a truly lean business without a team of people committed to lean principles. When every single employee is dedicated to decreasing overhead, streamlining processes, and eliminating waste, your company is transformed into a highly efficient operation.

Lean manufacturing sets out to tackle the “7 deadly sins” of manufacturing: overproduction, waste of unnecessary motion, waste of inventory, production of defects, waiting, waste of transportation, and over-processing.

A lean team makes all the difference when it comes to implementing significant, measurable improvements in all of these areas. With these tips, your team can become a powerfully lean engine, with each person working to optimize production.

What Lean Manufacturing Looks Like

Lean manufacturing follows the “just in time” mantra. This means your company orders materials just in time to be used and produces deliverables just in time to be sent off to your customers — eliminating the need to hold inventory, and reducing your production costs.

The lean philosophy also says that each step in the manufacturing process must add value to the product, assessed from the customer perspective. If a process or part does not add something to the product that the customer would consider valuable, it is eliminated. This increases efficiency and lowers the cost of production — not by cutting costs directly, but by creating a product that’s exactly what the customer wants, with no superfluous efforts.

When done well, an ERP system facilitates the philosophy of just-in-time supply. Although ERP systems are often used to manage excess inventory, they can also be used to monitor and eliminate such inventory. The system can alert your management team of any misstep in the lean manufacturing process. ERP software also helps you plan for demand, and connect every facet of your manufacturing process — in order to better highlight any areas where waste (any one of the 7 deadly sins) may be hiding.

Why Lean Manufacturing Needs a Lean Team

Incorporating lean manufacturing into your facility requires that your team be well-versed in the best practices, and most importantly, the purpose behind each practice.

A lean manufacturing team can think on-the-fly, and make changes to better the entire business. A lean work environment calls for workers who are proactive in their participation, empowered to make a change, and flexible in their duties to fill gaps and maximize their utilization.

If you give your team the right tools and support, they can achieve lean success.

1. Educate Your Team

In order for lean manufacturing to succeed, the entire team must work together to uphold the vision and practice — each team member helping to move the whole company in the right direction.

Provide training to help your employees recognize the differences between what they’re doing now, and what they can do with a lean mindset. Make sure every employee, regardless of rank, has a clear understanding of the foundational principles of lean management, the 7 deadly sins, and the customer-centric perspective. Creating familiarity with lean principles and standardized practices helps employees easily fall into the mold set out for them.

2. Run a Pilot Program

Creating a pilot team is a great way to set an example for the greater workforce. Select a group leader who can be the facilitator among all team members. Give that person the power to approve suggestions and implement lean improvements. Select employees to be part of this pilot team — they will be responsible for identifying problem areas, and working with the team leader (and all other members) to implement a solution.

A pilot team is a great way to perfect the roles involved in lean manufacturing and to make any last-minute adjustments before asking the rest of the workforce to follow suit.

3. Empower Your Team

One of the major benefits of a lean team structure is the empowerment it provides each employee. With all eyes active, the entire team functions with many minds; each providing a unique perspective on how to improve processes.

All teams within your company should understand that they not only have the right but the responsibility to suggest and implement improvements within the scope of their work. By maximizing employee input, advancements can occur faster. The ability to facilitate change without having to ‘run it up the line’ creates an environment where the company is continuously and fluidly improving.

4. Scrub the Process

A pilot program should take the majority of effort out of scrubbing the final product, but it’s still important to reflect on your lean process. After your full lean team is up and running, it’s time to sit back and take a close look at the whole picture.

Are employees bringing up problems and solutions, or have they fallen back into a passive, myopic role? Are team leaders engaged and working with their teams to encourage active thought? Is every member working to identify and implement solutions? Can any given employee explain the fundamentals of lean manufacturing, and how they provide value to the process?

Answering and analyzing these questions will ensure your resources are being utilized as effectively as possible.

5. Monitor Your Lean Team

As lean manufacturing creates a swift movement of goods, you need a system that can provide up-to-the-minute statistics — and this is where your ERP software shines. ERP can help you track where there are slowdowns or bottlenecks in the manufacturing process. Data is vital to managing the health of a lean manufacturing operation and assessing the effectiveness of your lean manufacturing team. An ERP system can help you scale down your inventory, automate tasks, and focus your workforce on only those activities that provide value to your product.

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Aaron Continelli, president of Cre8tive Technology and Design, started things small in 2005. What began as a one person consulting firm has now become a staff of 58 with three office locations. Specializing in ERP system sales and services, Cre8tive Technology and Design became an EPICOR Partner (Value Added Reseller) in 2007. Since then, Cre8tive Technology and Design has emerged as one of EPICOR’s ELITE and won the 2013 Americas Partner of the Year as the Top Revenue Producer.

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