April 2013: There is a whole body of work on Lean Manufacturing – a term coined by management consultants after a visit to Toyota who were, and still remain, pioneers in reducing waste.
Our approach has offered incredible insights into where we are efficient and where we aren’t.
One of the principle agents of change is measuring things, if you measure your output you have an opportunity to change it – things that aren’t measured typically offer at least a 10% opportunity for improvement.
What has been really impressive is the conversations that this measurement and the subsequent analysis generate.
People involved in the process become almost evangelical about identifying and eradicating the areas of waste.
The team’s perception of what is possible, changes dramatically, as they re-examine areas where we thought we were the best we could be.
Why? why? why? why? why…
Experts in Lean (Six Sigma etc) use the 5 whys when areas for improvement are identified and root cause analysis takes place. This is driven by the 5 whys – the theory being to keep asking ‘why?’ until you reach the real reason why something isn’t happening as well as it could.
Jeff Bezos of Amazon apparently uses this method – when there was an accident on the shop floor at one of their sites, Bezos went the workstation and asked the person at work there the 5 whys. He finally established that the materials weren’t within easy reach of the operator and this had led to the accident.
The reasoning behind the 5 whys is that we all become familiar with what we see and do every day. We accept inefficiencies because they become normal. By asking “why?” we re-learn and look at things with a fresh pair of eyes.
What we have seen from the implantation of this methodology is a re-invigorated approach – people are naturally inquisitive, we sometimes lose sight of this.
Operational Excellence has proved very beneficial in reducing waste and it’s a continuous programme – there’s always more waste to find!