Expand the Lean Reach


Are Lean efforts on the manufacturing floor enough to create a culture where every bit of waste in your organization is at risk of being obliterated? As the title of this article may suggest, the answer is “no.” In order to make a long and lasting impact, expanding the reach of Lean work is the only way to go. The more people who are knowledgeable and looking for waste, the more improvements there will be.

If you ask around, you’ll find other departments are frustrated with their processes too. Then the question becomes how to get more people involved in smart and efficient ways that will promote Lean thinking. The good news is there are lots of ways to tackle this. Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling. Think through your organization’s current culture and which of these ideas might work best. Ask other people what they think, especially the training and development team and anyone else who is often responsible for organization-wide initiatives. 

Ideas to spread the Lean word:

  1. White Belt: This is perfect for anyone who needs to learn the Lean Six Sigma basics. It takes anywhere from an hour to a day and gives participants a general overview of Lean Six Sigma topics. They’ll walk away with enough knowledge to understand the improvement projects and the ability to apply key lessons to their own work.
  2. Yellow Belt: For those who will be on the improvement project team and aren’t already a Green Belt or Black Belt, the Yellow Belt is just right. It gives participants a more in-depth understanding of Lean Six Sigma topics and makes sure they can help support Green Belt and Black Belt projects, as well as complete smaller projects in their own area.
  3. Invite others to join Kaizen project teams: When you’re forming teams for Kaizen events, think about including people who interact with the process, but aren’t necessarily part of the core process team. They might overlap enough to understand the process and how their own skills and work may apply. Think of those who are providing information for the process, do something similar, or have skills that might benefit the project even though they aren’t normally involved. This will not only build more familiarity with Lean outside of the manufacturing floor, it could also give you important new perspectives that would enrich the project. If this idea gives you a little heart burn, consider offering White Belt or Yellow Belt training for anyone who isn’t currently working on Lean Six Sigma projects. Giving them at least the basic tools and terminology beforehand will help them contribute sooner and be less frustrated with the learning curve.
  4. Teach Lean tool classes to anyone who’s interested: Pick individual tools that could benefit the whole organization and invite all interested parties to attend. For example, teach the fishbone diagram. It’s simple, applies to a wide variety of problems, and gives a clear structure. A word of caution, think through how the tool will fit with other teams. For example, shadow boards lose a bit of their value when it comes to where the tape sits on someone’s desk.
  5. Set organization-wide process improvement goals: Include every department in the scope of process improvement, because everyone is affecting your customers in some way. Whether directly or indirectly, even processes the customers never see are also taking up time and resources that could be used for something else. Make sure as few things as possible are standing in the way of delivering on the promise to your customers.
  6. Recognize process improvements made in any department: This applies especially in situations where the improvement goals are organization-wide. Good things can happen anywhere and recognition goes a long way toward future achievements too. There’s almost nothing more demotivating than being challenged to achieve something and then having that achievement go unnoticed or undervalued. Recognition doesn’t have to break the bank or require an elaborate plan. The key is to be consistent so the rewards feel fair and worthwhile.
  7. Seek other input: If you want to get a certain team involved in your Lean efforts, ask them how they’d like to get involved (think VOC). They may have ideas you haven’t thought of and they definitely know more about their team, schedules, busy season, etc. than you do. Asking for someone’s input also helps them feel like they’re part of something. They have a say about what happens and how it happens rather than feeling forced to take on a new responsibility.

Those are seven ideas that just might transform your continuous improvement culture, but don’t stop there. What other ideas do you have? Who else may be helpful in finding the best path forward? Remember the other departments who will be needed to pull this off. A big initiative like this could be a great opportunity to bring more people to the team, like someone wants to get into process improvement or is hooked on their own professional development. Get creative with how you expand the Lean reach to the whole organization.

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