First Steps to Getting Lean
August 15, 2011 | 11:38 am CDT

What is your company’s current state of lean? Here is a lean audit for both small shops and large plants, to evaluate how you are doing.

Do you ever wonder how your company measures up in lean manufacturing? One way you can find out is by conducting a self-evaluation, i.e., a “lean audit.”

Many woodworking companies today are either into a formal lean effort or at least familiar with the subject to some degree. To define it for the few that are not, achieving lean status is a process of Continuous Improvement to eliminate all activities that do not add value to your product or service. This applies to companies of all sizes.


This audit is a simple way to highlight areas that are contributing to waste in your operation. The answers to these questions will point out areas that need attention in order to reduce waste (non-value-added activities). You will need to dig deeper and use these and other lean tools and methodologies to make positive changes, so you can answer more of these questions with a resounding “yes” in your continual journey to lean. (DOWNLOAD PDF)

Any non-value-added activity should be considered unnecessary and waste that robs you of the ability to produce quality products, on time, at the proper cost. With a simple audit, you can determine your current state of pursuing lean and gain inspiration to achieve higher levels of excellence.

The Lean Audit
There are many tools that are used to strive toward lean. While all of them are useful in managing a wood products company, some are applicable primarily to the larger plants in our industry. Others are very basic and apply to small cabinet and woodworking shops, as well as the larger plants.

A total list of the tools of lean would number 15 or so. But for an initial audit, I am limiting my list to five for small shops and an additional five for plants with a larger workforce and a more complicated product line. Each represents an area that should be a focus of your company to be successful in eliminating waste. To conduct a self-audit and measure your standing, you should answer a series of questions.

Look at the two charts for Typical Wood Co. on page 124. The first one contains questions 1-5, which apply to both small and large companies. The second chart contains items 6-10, applicable only to larger manufacturers. Small shops should audit using the first chart (1-5) and larger plants audit with both charts (1-10).

The first five areas are: Training, Continuous Improvement, 5-S Workplace Management, Total Quality Management and Total Productive (Preventive) Maintenance. The second set is: Visual Controls, Work Cells, Standard Work, Quick Changeovers and Continuous Flow. Each represents a discipline that contributes to eliminating non-value-added activities.

Scoring the Audit
Each of the 10 disciplines has from three to five questions that you must answer thoughtfully and honestly. Each question can be answered in one of five ways, with each having a numerical value. They are: Yes = 4; Often = 3; Somewhat = 2; Rarely = 1; No = 0. No is No and Yes is Yes, but there are degrees in-between.

No matter the size of your company, go to the first chart and score the questions for items 1-5 now. When you finish, average the scores in each group and mark that down as shown in the sample on page 124. These scores will reveal areas of weakness and help in setting priorities and strategies to get your lean program moving ahead.

Review the Results
In my example, the weakest area is #4 (Quality Management), with an average score of 1.0. The lower the score, the more likely that those elements are contributing to waste and demand positive change.
I have not tried to arrange all 10 items in this audit in order of importance, but I prioritized the first three (Training, Continuous Improvement, 5-S Workplace Management). These form the building blocks for an effective lean manufacturing effort. As you develop an action plan, put these at the top in that order.
If you want to know your overall standing in lean as a small shop, you can average the overall scores of all five areas in your audit. In the example represented in the first chart for a small shop, the average score for all five areas is 1.76 — not much to brag about.

Analysis of Larger Plants
If your manufacturing facility is a larger plant, you should also complete items 6-10 in the second chart. Again, answer each question carefully and treat the lowest average scores in this group as the most serious constraints in your quest for lean.

It would be difficult for even the largest of plants to concentrate on all 10 areas at the same time. Tackling too much too fast will only frustrate employees and disrupt productivity. Therefore, deficiencies in the first group (1-5) should be addressed first, as they form the foundation for a good lean program. After you have made significant progress in these five, you can expand into other areas as your resources allow.

Share the Results
To illustrate the practical use of one item in the audit (6.C — Visual Controls), the results of this audit should be communicated to all associates in the first steps of your training. You can use something like the radar graph at right to visually illustrate the areas in your operation that need improvement.
The color red illustrates progress in any one area. As you move forward and update the graph, employees can watch the area of red expand as their efforts produce a more robust lean effort. This, displayed with a copy of the score sheets, can be a powerful way to communicate how serious your company is about pursuing lean in the early stages.

Tom Dossenbach is the president of Dossenbach Associates Inc., an international consulting and research firm. Contact him at (919) 775-5017 or e-mail [email protected]. Past columns can be found here.


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About the author
Tom Dossenbach