November 12

Lean Manufacturing Success: 11 Things to Master to Transform Your Business


There are a number of do’s and don’ts when it comes to making your lean manufacturing programme a success. It goes without saying that a programme that makes a difference is focused and has clear milestones.

That being said, here are the 12 essential tips to ensure your lean programme isn’t an after thought, but a long lasting strategic advantage.

1. Strategy and Direction

In order to maximise your lean manufacturing success, your business must be highly focused on what it’s trying to achieve.  In order to do this, everyone must be able to answer the following:

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • Why are we doing it?
  • How will lean help us get there?

It’s not enough to just want to implement lean. The best projects are those that are clear and concise in knowing what, why and how. They have a burning platform to change and be better.

Here are Some Examples:

Company 1:

  • What: We want to grow by 50% in our existing premises
  • Why: We want to grow our profits without investing heavily in having to move to a bigger facility
  • How: Use lean to improve our efficiency and reduce stock holding, so we can stay in our current premises

Company 2: 

  • What: We want to double our business in 12 months by offering 5 day lead-times
  • Why: Our competitors offer 2 month lead times. We can create a competitive advantage and be the market leader if we can achieve 5 days
  • How: Implement lean to drive one piece flow methods across our whole business and shorten lead-time

2. Map Key Product Families

A product family is a range of services or products (depending on whether you’re a manufacturer or service business), which link together into categories. The products in these categories all tick the following boxes:

  1. They follow the similar steps in the entire value stream (within 80% of each other)
  2. The time it takes to process is within 30% variation of each other

Why do This?

We need to be able to segment types of work into groups. By doing this, it’s easier to plan work through the business. It’s also easier to make large step changes in productivity and throughput.

For instance, imagine your company manufactures over 500 different products. You could plan for every job, as and when they land. But if you planned for product families instead, you’re spend less time.

Also, when you’re looking to improve end-to-end value streams, it’s not feasible to look at each individual product on its own.

In lean, we want to make it improvements as fast and as efficient as posible. If we make an improvement to a group of similar products, then all those products will benefit, not just one.

The point is, we’ll be more efficient.

So, with our 500 products, and following the 80/30 rule above, we may find that we only have 6 product families. It’s a lot easier to make focused improvements across 6 groups rather than 500 products individually.

Plan for Success Easier

We can now begin to plan the following, as part of our lean programme:

  1. How many sales do we expect to make for each product family?
  2. Which product families do we constantly sell, daily or weekly?
  3. How much capacity do we need for all product families?
  4. Can we make production cells around product families?
  5. What’s the drumbeat (takt time) of each product family and how can we produce to this pace?

This then forms the basis for all the other work we’ll undertake. It will ensure that when we create our value stream mapping, they’re highly focused around timings, sales targets, product mix and how we build capacity into our processes.

Without identifying our product families, we can’t create detailed value stream maps. This then means that our analysis is very shallow, which in turn means we can’t effectively re-design the business to achieve growth at the operational level.

3. Create Clear Goals and Measurement

We talked about strategic direction and providing the reasons for implementing lean (what, why and how).

In tandem to this, it’s no good going this far by understanding our strategic reasons for change and identifying our product families, if we don’t link clear goals and measurements to what we’re doing.

The measurements will help us identify when we’ve achieved our targets.

For example, we may decide that we need to:

  • Increase the up time of machine A from 2 hours per day to 3.5 hours
  • Increase our right first time from 80% to 97%
  • Reduce the lead time from order to delivery by 30 days
  • Increase lead time from sales to customer service from 5 days to 1 day

These are very specific goals within the value stream. They provide clarity of what needs to be done to achieve our strategic targets.

Without them, we’ll be making improvements in a scatter gun way, without cross team focus.

4. Incentivise Lean Manufacturing Success

There’s an old saying which I’m sure you’ve heard of, “What gets measured, gets improved.”

Many lean programmes fail because managers expect people to instantly change what they’re doing. Unfortunately, change is a complex process.

Humans are creatures of habit. We hold on to routines and familiarity. And when faced with change, it throws us out of kilter. 

What’s in it for me?

Lean manufacturing success is governed by this. It’s this question that  really only matters when you’re asking an employee to rip up what they’ve done and do something differently.

You have to be clear in your communication and show why they should do something differently and how they’ll benefit from the new way.

One of the quickest and effective ways of doing this is to create incentives to drive the right behaviours. These don’t have to be solely monetary, but you need to think of creative ways to reward people for conducting the new ways of working. Here are some examples:

  • Team of the week – get’s a free breakfast
  • The most improvement ideas each month – wins a day off in lieu 
  • The model area award – recognition for best 5S area 
  • Getting involved in improvement actions – As part of the company bonus scheme

And so on…

By changing how you measure and reward, can change behaviours and habits. 

For instance, there’s no point trying to implement 5S if you’re paying your staff a piece rate bonus. Do they care if the place is messy? They care about their output.

If you flipped this around and now provided a bonus on productivity, 5S and quality output, you’ll soon see interest in keeping the place busy, while ensuring what’s made is right first time.

5. Use a change management programme

I just alluded to the fact that humans don’t normally change what they’re doing easily. We all need reasons to change.

In fact, Kubler-Ross, a psychologist, identified that we all follow a typical curve when faced with change in our lives. 


We tend to go through the following stages of grief:

  • Denial – “This won’t work here”… or, “I can’t believe what’s happening at the moment…” This is the stage when we need time to digest things and have just been given the news that change is happening.
  • Anger – When we realise that it’s not going away, and things can’t go back to normal, we often start blaming ourselves and others. “Why didn’t i do something”….. or “Well, I’m leaving. I can’t take this….” These are typical reactions.
  • Compromise / Exploring – Once we’ve had time to internalise, and accept this, we start to meet half way, whilst we slowly come to terms. “What about if we did this?” Or “I hear what you’re saying, but can’t i do it this way….” These are all typical of  this next step. Rejoice when you hear these words – you’ve just got over the change hump!
  • Acceptance – Change has been accepted and the individual has come through the curve. Productivity is now higher than it has ever been and you seem to have happy individuals who are embracing the new ways of working…

Naturally, this curve takes a whole lot of time and effort on your part as a leader. You need to spend time with people at the individual level to help take them through the curve. They’ll tend to transition through this curve at different paces.

Failing to do this, means you’re leaving your employees largely stuck in the denial or anger stages….Not good for a successful change programme.

6. Use a Leadership Framework

Similarly to managing change, successful lean programmes are driven by the leaders. This is a vital ingredient to any lean manufacturing success.

Sure, empowering employees and getting them to make improvements every day is the name of the game… but managers have to lead this.

In a successful lean leadership framework, all leaders must do the following:

  • Coach the lean way and tease out daily improvements amongst their staff
  • Review what’s working and what’s not
  • Identify when to step back and ask questions for their teams to make improvements
  • Identify when to help support actions when the team need help
  • Ensure that KPIs and visual management is being deployed
  • Ensuring the new standards are being followed from 5S, to standard work…
  • Hold 1-2-1 reviews to help support each team member on an individual level
  • Drive daily problem solving

This lean daily leadership is a repeatable system, which EVERY LEADER must follow, to ensure that the lean system is working every day.

WARNING: Failure to do so will mean the teams feel like they’re engaged, but no manager is. This will result in a failed lean programme, as people start to lose heart and regress to the old ways of working.

7. Systematic Improvements

If you’re serious about a long term lean transformation, you need a structured approach to taking action. Scatter gun improvements won’t cut it.

By scatter gun, I mean making lots of improvements that aren’t linked together. If improvements aren’t linked to each other, then you’ll risk fixing something but make it worse somewhere down the process.

Here’s an example of what I mean. A number of years ago, as an employee, I was tasked with improving an assembly line’s production. They had 4 people working excessive overtime and only achieving around 50% on time delivery.

I helped them implement one piece flow methods and managed to get them to work 4 days a week with 2 people, without any overtime work. We moved the other operators to additional areas in the business.

After patting myself on the back, i left the area and returned a couple of weeks later to see how they got on.

They were furious with me!

What i had done is made them so efficient that they were standing around longer, waiting for parts.

I had failed to fix the other parts of the value stream. Their big problem was getting parts on time from the machine shop. They always had the problem of parts shortages, but now they just spend more time waiting!

This taught me a big lesson.  Improvements should all be made as part of a joined up project. This comes from the Value Stream Map.

8. Ensure You’re Implementing Quick Wins

When you’re working on longer lean improvements, never take your eye off making quick high impact improvements, too. 

These quick wins are relatively high impact and low cost and time to implement. 

Some examples are:

  • Create a standard procedure for a key process
  • Painting and improving the workplace
  • Putting up a team board for daily stand up meetings
  • Moving the work area around to improve flow
  • Fix the broken lighting
  • Purchase that replacement chair for that employee who’s been waiting too long..

Use Quick Wins to Get Buy-in

These quick wins are very important. They show to the workforce that this lean programme is being taken seriously and is working.

They show that things are actually getting completed. You need to mix the long term actions that will make lasting change with these quick wins.

Doing this will ensure that the long term project is being worked on whilst the people are seeing the quick wins. This will strengthen the buy-in from the employees.

A mistake to getting lean manufacturing success, i made a few years ago, was that i spent so long fixing the engine so to speak (making long term fixes), which couldn’t be seen straight away…. and neglected many quick wins as well (shining, and making the bodywork look great). 

About 8 months in to the programme, a cynical employee approached and told me in no uncertain terms, that, “this lean stuff is a waste of time. I can’t see any change…” 

I felt so dejected. I’d spent 8 months of hard work for someone to tell me nothing’s been improved. After calming down, he was right. He couldn’t see things that mattered to him (the quick wins).

Do this, and you get more people on board and bought into the programme.

9. Create Owners and Champions

In addition to this, the secret is to not implement lean for employees. 

You need clear owners and champions who will help implement change and drive lean every day. The secret is to involve the teams to drive this change.

Answer these questions:

  • Who’s going to lead the whole programme? This person will hold people accountable and lead weekly project reviews.
  • Owners – Who’s responsible for each area of the value stream? E.G. Leading the back office improvements, manufacturing, purchasing improvements, etc. There must be clarity in owners for each part of the value stream improvements.

This is imperative to get lean manufacturing success.

Without ownership and leadership, you’ll get a lot of gusto at the start of the project… for it to then fizzle out when people lose interest and opt to just get work out the door.

10. Focus on the 5 Principles

Remember, lean works when you have a system to follow. This system should follow the 5 principles of lean. Everything in your business should go into embedding these elements:

  1. Understand what your customers value
  2. Understand how you make this value (Value stream)
  3. Make the value stream flow (remove waste)
  4. Pull work through the value stream (Make just in time)
  5. Continuously improve (and build a continuous improvement culture)

They’re simple but should govern how you create your value stream maps. Each improvement you create should clearly show how you will implement these 5 principles to change it for the better.

11. Stick with It

Change is hard. In fact, anything worth doing is hard.

You’ll question why you’re bothering, at times. You’ll have little time and a lot of stress while everyone is getting work out and trying to improve.

They’ll be challenges that will make you question yourselves and ensure there’s a lot of head scratching.

Sticking with it means going all out until the programme is complete…. and you can see lasting change.

Sometimes, it’s like taking 2 steps forward and then 3 steps back. It’s a test that can be beaten by continuously following your action plan, and working towards your strategic goals and direction…. oh and following these 11 tips of course!


You may also like

How to Begin Your Lean Journey: 5 Steps to Making an Impact

5 Reasons Why Continuous Improvement in Manufacturing Is Important

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Contact Us

Need any help? Give us a shout and we'll respond within 24 hours.

__CONFIG_colors_palette__{"active_palette":0,"config":{"colors":{"cf6ff":{"name":"Main Color","parent":-1},"73c8d":{"name":"Dark Accent","parent":"cf6ff"}},"gradients":[]},"palettes":[{"name":"Default","value":{"colors":{"cf6ff":{"val":"rgb(20, 115, 210)","hsl":{"h":210,"s":0.82,"l":0.45}},"73c8d":{"val":"rgb(21, 89, 162)","hsl_parent_dependency":{"h":211,"s":0.77,"l":0.35}}},"gradients":[]}}]}__CONFIG_colors_palette__
Send Message