Next Lean: Lean leadership on the shopfloor board with real-time data

The book The Machine that Changed the World was published in 1990 and marks the start of value-added and waste thinking in the western world, the start of “Lean Manufacturing”. There is a lot of discussion about how lean must be interpreted in a modern way so that it continues to contribute to the productivity of factories between digitization and automation and despite the shortage of skilled workers. This article aims to make a contribution to this.

Honestly, there is no alternative concept to lean manufacturing. To be honest, however, the average degree of lean production penetration in factories is also low. It does not fail because of the availability of tools and methods. Kanban, SMED, milk run and all other tools are known and well documented. You quickly end up looking for the causes of the low spread of lean in people – where else. People, or more precisely in the first step management and in the second step all employees must support lean, have a lean “mindset”. How do you achieve that?

If you want to make a difference in an organization together with people, you cannot bypass the topic of “leadership”. This should be understood to mean either the management of other employees, regardless of hierarchical superiority, subordination or equality – and also the self-management of each individual employee. The theory of lean production has shaped the alliteration “lean leadership”.

Lean leadership refers to the ability of leaders to create and foster a culture of continuous improvement in which employees are involved in the process of problem solving and improvement.

Lean leadership is characterized by a number of characteristics, including:

  • Respect for employees and their skills
  • A clear vision and a common focus on common goals
  • A culture of continuous improvement and learning
  • Focus on customer needs and customer value
  • Empowering employees to make independent decisions
  • Avoiding waste and increasing efficiency

In practice, this means that lean leadership practitioners work closely with their teams to identify challenges and implement improvements. They create an environment that encourages innovation and creativity, and ensure employees have the resources and training they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

That’s the theory. Unfortunately, processes of change in human thinking and acting towards “lean leadership” are not completed and sustainable with a presentation, training or reading a book – or even this article. A company needs more than that.

An important management situation and a well-known and significant management tool in lean production is shopfloor management. It is used to have all operational key performance indicators available in a central location, to discuss them regularly and in short cycles with employees and to consistently derive improvement activities if target values ​​have not been achieved. An information cascade is set up, starting with the equipment teams and then building up through the organizational hierarchies to the COO. The aim of this form of organization is a quick escalation of problems and quick communication of decisions in the other direction. If you compare this description with the above listing of the characteristics of lean leadership, you will find that there is a significant overlap.

Lean production has traditionally had a penchant for doing things by hand and without using a computer or (complex) technology. The background is that digital tools can limit participation and flexibility, and their use can be associated with waste. However, lean production is not per se against the use of digital technology. The hurdle of deployment seems to lie in the unwillingness to change of veteran Lean practitioners – but that’s a completely different story.

If we interpret Lean in a modern way, the use of information technology for data collection and processing, as required for the key figure focus of shopfloor management, is absolutely necessary, because this avoids waste, e.g. in the form of errors, double work, long waiting times for evaluations. If data is available in real-time, action can be taken more quickly and the employees feel responsible for their current performance (keywords participation, autonomy – see above).

We have now worked out the three elements of the target state, the North Star, the vision of the “Next Lean”: People act according to “Lean Leadership” criteria, the central tool is shopfloor management, and the data is collected in real-time and automatically presented.

Image: Next Lean Northstar

Finally, let’s take a look at a very common form of production processes, machine-based series production. At the moment when machines generate part of the value add, Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) becomes an important key figure. In this scenario, can prepare the key figures required for shopfloor management (e.g. OEE, set-up time, scrap, OTIF (on-time in full), etc.) in real- time, compare them against targets and detect trends. In this way, the data is not only transparent in real-time on an Andon and is available for shopfloor management. In addition, the effectiveness of improvement measures and their sustainability can be traced on the basis of figures, data and facts. Thus, the lean leader has his target state in mind.

If you have any questions about this type of lean transformation, please do not hesitate to contact us. We provide both the technology for these projects and we are also available for the consulting part of the implementation. Feel free to contact us.