Why Many Lean Projects Fail

If you have worked in any moderately large manufacturing environment surely you have witnessed multiple iterations of Lean Programs. By now everyone from finance, engineering, human resources, quality, manufacturing and procurement consider themselves experts in lean manufacturing techniques. Just ask them.

Lean methodology was once referred as total quality management (TQM) created to drive out waste through the use of statistics and creation of standardize work. TQM focused on serving the customer both internal and external. The addition of the internal customer was major morale boost for those accustomed to waiting timely and accurate information from other departments now referred to as silos. TQM was once embraced throughout the rank and file of organizations. This is a loose definition quality programs go by many names.

So what happened, after all everyone you speak to is now an expert? There are books, training manuals and consultants’ galore!  Why is TQM initiatives now referred to simply as the “Program of the Month”?  What is the reason inventories are high and output is low when there is so much blood, sweat and tears put into optimizing manufacturing systems. In an earlier post I discussed the how optimizing non bottlenecks processes just to report a win is self-destructive. But today I’m going to take a more simplistic approach.   Without all the parts (components) you cannot build anything, revolutionary revelation huh? Let’s look into world of sports.

The University of Alabama is perennial football powerhouse in college football. At the high school level private high schools have racked an incredible amount of football championships within in the country.  What do the two have in common? Both continually field the most valuable component in football, quality players! Alabama successfully recruits the best players in the nation. Private schools have major advantage over public schools because there are no borders restricting student eligibility result great players!. You can copy their playbook, build world-class weight rooms and stadiums but without the quality players you will NEVER consistently beat these teams. They may be good recruiters or have a competitive advantage either way they have scoreboard!

In the world of manufacturing consider your purchased materials as the players to put on the field of play. Your material needs to ready an available at game time no exception! We can’t afford to delay the game every quarter due to shortages or quality issues. Without high quality materials or players even the most advance well prepared game plan is doomed from the start.

If you’re spending a substantial amount of time on internal processes and efficiencies you may be missing the boat. More time and focus is needed in supplier development when developing Kanban lines.

You need to recruit and retain quality suppliers plus have back up or fall back waiting in the wings. Think of it this way, you’re at Bryant-Denny Stadium with 100K of your closest Roll Tide friends awaiting the team to come out of the tunnel and nothing! The team is stuck in locker room the uniforms are still in laundry or key to locker room locked whatever. Great coach great game plan doesn’t matter if the players don’t make it to the field!

Too often Lean Projects fail due to inconsistent delivery of quality product to line when needed!

Thinks to consider …

  1. The ability to change suppliers shouldn’t take an act of God. If you want suppliers to step up their game and compete they must have real competition, or least know they can be easily replaced.
  2. Spend more effort on supplier development and communication.
  3. Understand and go see how the supplier operates. Walk through the process from order entry to shipping.
  4. Don’t start Kanban lines until you’re at least 95% sure that suppliers can continually meet schedules.
  5. If suppliers tout buffers have real time methods to verify.
  6. If customer directs you to a specific supplier than they should share responsibility for any shortcoming of that organization.
  7. Don’t promise more to your customer than your supplier can deliver. This includes product features and long term agreements. For example giving a 5 year agreement to customer but negotiating 1 year agreement with supplier you’re asking for trouble.

You can’t go wrong redirecting resources to outside suppliers after all that’s where the game begins! You probably already have a great game plan, field, coaches and fans just waiting for the players to take the field!


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