Where do I start with Lean manufacturing?

Any company that is looking into implementing Lean manufacturing standards is going to run into one significant obstacle. Where to start. While there is endless documentation and recommendations on ways to perform Lean manufacturing techniques, there really isn’t very much out there that can help take these methodologies from an idea into production.

Fortunately, it is not difficult to start a Lean manufacturing program in a facility. Once you have gotten the buy-in from upper management and other managers, it is just a process of taking some initial steps to get going.

Build & Inform Your Team

The first thing that you’ll need to do is build, inform, and train your team. In most cases your team is going to be made up of all your employees (they will often be the ones to identify waste), and then another smaller team who will actually carry out the projects.

The smaller team should be made up of people from multiple different levels of the company. They will come up with ideas on how to eliminate waste, and put them into practice. Lean manufacturing teams can be the same set of employees at all times, or you can cycle through different people over time.

Start Simple

One mistake that many companies make when starting a Lean manufacturing team is trying to find a huge area of waste and address it right from the beginning. While the intention is good, it often leads to big problems and even the discarding of the Lean program.

Instead, find a small area of waste that can be easily addressed. Use these simple issues to gain experience and learn how the team will work together. Once you are able to successfully eliminate waste in one small project, you can build on that success to find larger improvement opportunities.

Gather Data

Finally, make sure that you are gathering data on all projects. You need to know how things were operating before changes were made, exactly what was done to eliminate waste, and how things operated after the changes were completed. This will help to measure success and can often point out further improvement opportunities.

Repeat the Cycle

Once you have gone through your first Lean manufacturing project, you will simply go back and start a second one. Depending on the number of people on the team, and how the facility operates, it may even be possible to run multiple waste elimination projects at once. Just don’t try to rush through things. It is much better to take it slow and achieve real lasting progress than to complete things fast and only realize small improvements.


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