Blog Post 6 Things do to get Lean working in design office

Simplified VSM catagories



6 Things do to get Lean working in design office

Applying Lean thinking is different to applying Lean Manufacturing. There are some fundamental differences. Not only are we dealing with people and not machines but there are differences to what is required, and challenges faced. I have found these 6 Lean principles key to improving productivity when working with any engineer group.

Simplified VSM catagories
Simplified VSM catagories

1.    Process map your key activities

Grab a big old white board or blank wall and process map the key design process. Don’t try and do a detailed VSM with all its schematic, you’ll just confuse everyone. Grab sticky notes do a simple VSM and understand where process variation, defects/rework and late information happens. Now you and the team can make the changes needed.

2.    Flow

Make work flow the priority, everything you do to improve flow will improve productivity. Aim for designers to be working on only one principle job at a time, if they have 6 jobs on their desk, they spend more time swapping and managing the work than they do designing. Also have an early job review (between 8 and 24 hours in), do you have the right information to do this job or does it need to go back so a cycle of rework does not start.

The Software Industry has really grabbed hold of this and use what they call Kanbans and ScumBans to mange work. These are a little different to a manufacturing Kanban but hey they are similar enough and have the same impact of improving workflow. And as a bonus there are now a whole array of software solutions to manage your Kanbans.

3.    Make engineers solution providers and not just engineers

This applies to both Engineers and designers. Engineers love to engineer, we (I’m a P.Eng) will come up with the best engineering solution that we can. That might not be the best real-world solution. Changing the Engineers responsibility away from just providing the drawing package to a solution package (drawing, BOM,  availability, assembly method after talking to manufacturing, suppliers…what you need) asks a very different question and will get you a much more useful answer. Yes, this takes little longer for the Engineer to pull together. The payback is that the number of issues downstream will be massively reduced as will the engineering time spent addressing them.

4.    Know where the bottlenecks are

Bottlenecks change as projects progress and the mix of work changes, they don’t disappear. Recognize where the bottleneck is and share it. Saying “Sam in Piping is the bottleneck the next two weeks, anything we can do to reduce Sam’s workload will help” lets everyone one know what is what and what they need to contribute.

Real VSM example
Real VSM example

5.    Waiting

Teach everyone the importance between, people waiting and jobs waiting. When everyone knows the priority is to stops jobs from waiting the right decisions start happening, work moves faster and people wait less for the next job.
In Lean thinking we focus on delivering customer value which is delivering the job, so our focus becomes how to keep the job moving forward. 

6.    Don’t chase high utilization

Engineers are expensive especially contract or senior engineers. You still don’t want to be chasing utilization. If thing are going well you should expect there to be spread of unused time. Overworking your engineer is the same as running a generator at full load without servicing, it will slow down, and problems will happen. This is where mistakes creep in and a negative feedback loop of mistakes and more hours starts. Alternatively, they will invent busy work to look busy and pretend they are heavily utilized.  

7.    Bonus trick

Engineers I have found over the years hate doing the documentation part of jobs. The leave it to the last minute hoping the rush for next job will mean it can be left for even later. And when they get to it they take forever as they have to search for data and relocate all the documents. Stop it right away, only let them start a new job once the old one is finished. Its amazing how much of a motivator this can be and how much quicker they become at getting the documentation done.

Comments are closed.