Implementing Lean eliminates waste

December 1, 2007

When an organization first hears of Lean operations, it is not unusual that the employees’ and management’s first response is, “We’re already Lean. We don’t have enough people now. Everyone already has too much to do. Our budgets have already been cut to the bone.”

From that perspective, it is sometimes difficult to get employees and their supervisors to understand that the issue isn’t the number of people they have or the size of their budgets. The issue isn’t whether or not people are busy. The real issue is what they are doing and how they are doing it.

Determining what is waste

In every organization, activities and functions are performed every day that have no value to customers. Because we are all busy and overloaded, we somehow begin to view these things as essential. We think of our business as lean already because we are all busy. The key to starting the Lean journey is look at what we are busy with.

Anything that has no value to a customer is considered waste. That sounds harsh, but it’s true. Anything your customer does not want to pay for is a waste to that customer.

Anything that falls into the category of waste is something you should strive to eliminate. There are some things that you can only control because, regardless of their lack of value to your customers, they will always be with you, such as taxes and regulatory compliance.

The first step is to identify value from your customers’ perspective. Then understand that everything else is non-value added or waste. Some of it will be necessary (that’s what you try to minimize and control), some will not (that’s what you want to eliminate.)

Remember that waste is an acronym for What All Successful Teams Eliminate.

Value from the customers’ perspective

One of the common steps in greenhouse production is selecting plants for specific orders and transporting those plants to the point of shipment. In most cases, this is called the “pulling” process.

Most growers send a team of three or four people to the point of product selection. This team picks plants for the orders and places them on a cart. This process is repeated until the carts are loaded. The team then returns to the point of shipment and unloads the plants.

During this pulling activity, the employees are very busy in that they are always doing something. The key to improving this process is to identify what they are busy doing.

The only element of this process that has any value to customers is the actual product selection. The customers placed an order for a specific variety in a specific stage of development. That is what they want to pay for. From the customers’ perspective, that is what growers should focus on.

Non-value activity

In the pulling process, it is not unusual to watch an entire team transport the product back to the point of shipment. This means three or four people are riding along with the product. They are no longer pulling product; they’re just escorting it. While it looks like the pulling team members are always busy, they aren’t providing value to customers.

In most cases, growers can alter the pulling process by setting up a schedule so that one person moves the pulled plants while the other team members continue selecting product. By timing the return and departure of carts, growers can ensure that the product-selection process (value for the customer) is optimized and the movement of plants, while still ongoing, results in minimal expenditure of time.

Kent State releases Lean DVD series

Kent State University in conjunction with Roger Fisher released a DVD series devoted to Lean business operations. The series is available in Lean Horticulture and Lean Manufacturing editions. The Lean Horticulture series is designed to help a company’s performance by:

* Providing a cost-effective means of learning about and implementing Lean.

* Providing a permanent vehicle to educate all employees.

* Establishing a reference and resource to develop training in your company.

* Building and strengthening the leadership group in principles of world-class operations.

For more: Tom Southards, Kent State University , College of Technology , (330) 672-0793; wsouthar@kent.edu; www.rsfisherinc.com.

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- Roger Fisher

Roger Fisher is president, R.S. Fisher Inc., (330) 650-4774; fr34@aol.com; www.rsfisherinc.com.