Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of commonly heard statements and asked questions about Lean Manufacturing. If you cannot find the answer you’re looking for, always feel free to call us at 403-470-1659 to learn more!

Q: My staff will never buy into a Lean program.

A: You’re right – if they don’t know why the program is being implemented. However, people buy into improvement activities if they see, and are actively involved in, those activities as improving their work, their status, and the strength of the company. Ongoing productivity initiatives fail when staff perceive the results of those initiatives as a loss of involvement in their work, decreased status or feel that their jobs are threatened. Successful Lean companies make their staff part of the process!

Q: What has Lean got to do with my business?

A: Lean and continuous improvement is about removing waste from a company’s processes and shifting the company focus toward adding value for the customer. This makes good business sense for any company with a customer base…so, Lean works for all business.

Q: My business is already pretty Lean.

A: What exactly do you mean by Lean? If Lean means you have only the people you need to get the work done and no fat, that is one correct answer. Another is that you have the right number of people for the work you have, and those people are continually working with you in a successfully and repeatable way to implement ideas that improve process time, quality and build the business at every level. However, if your company is not the above, than we should have a chat.

Q: Where did the ideas of Lean Manufacturing come from?

A: Many of the fundamental ideas of Lean Manufacturing, including CANDO/5s, part interchange ability, Takt time, Statistical Process Control, Standard Work and Theory of Constraints, were developed in the U.S. and Germany. Later when the success of Japanese companies was studied in the 80’s and 90’s, these ideas were re-evaluated and repackaged along with the advancements the Japanese had made. The Japanese terms are now more commonly used in operations and manufacturing management.

Q: Isn’t Lean only really useful if you run a factory making widgets?

A: No! No process, when you look at it from start to finish, is 100% efficient. It doesn’t matter if that process is making a car, doing a quote for a customer, or drilling an oil well. Every process has opportunities for improvement. Lean provides a framework and tools for companies to drive out inefficiency. This is why companies such a Shell and Suncor are investing so much effort into Lean and why both Mount Royal University and SAIT are now offering courses in Lean Management.

Q: So how is Lean different from other ways to improve productivity?

A: Typically when most companies look to improve productivity they look at the big value add things they do, be it machining metal or a doctor treating a patient. They then look to find ways to make these steps more efficient. In Lean we call this “point improvement”. In contrast, Lean companies look at the whole process called the “value stream”, that the part or patient travels through the company or medical centre. By looking at the value stream from order taking to delivery, you are able to see where value is created and where waste is in the system. Understanding the whole process enables companies to identify where their efforts will have the biggest effect on reducing waste and therefore increasing productivity.

Q: I thought Lean was just a collection of tools such as 5S and Six Sigma?

A: These tools are one very important part of Lean; they provide the methods through which companies can improve productivity. They are also often highly visible and therefore easily recognized. However, Lean is about the bigger picture. Lean thinking involves taking a holistic view of productivity and moves away from point improvements towards improving the whole process. A Lean company is always looking for continuous improvement

It should be noted that one important lean tool is called a value stream map. Value stream maps are used to identify the fraction of each step that adds value and what fraction of each step are waste and ways to improve.

Q: I thought Lean was about being Lean and mean…in other words, one less person?

A: Some companies have taken this approach; often it is called “business process re-engineering” and typically doesn’t work out well. Any productivity gains made, usually quickly disappear as few people in the company really want it to succeed. Clever companies use Lean to improve capacity, shorten lead times and improve quality without removing staff. They achieve these changes by collaboratively working with staff to map and improve process or to reorganize a work area to improve work flow. The best companies revisit their previous improvement efforts looking and finding opportunities to make further improvements.

If you are wanting to find out more feel free to call us at 403-470-1659 or email info@appliedperformance.ca!