So many of our domestic furniture manufacturers are closing their doors and/or moving overseas that it's time to get a little melodramatic. It's time for our industry leaders to wake up to the long-term damage they are causing to our country, our citizens and the families of those who invested much of their time and energy to build quality products at reasonable prices.
I have been writing articles for the furniture industry that focus on lean for eight years and partnering with visionary executives for 16 years as they make the lean journey; yet the exodus continues, now at an even more rapid pace. The sad thing about the crisis in our industry is that it doesn't need to be occurring. The thousands of dedicated employees that used to work in the now dark and boarded-up factories weren't the reason their companies went overseas. They are the victims. The two primary reasons jobs are being lost are greed and a lack of innovative and creative thinking on the part of those companies' executives. Now that I have roused your ire, let's focus on the solution.


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One of my associates and I recently partnered with the staff of a company that had been struggling in recent years to maintain a dominant presence in their market segment. Going overseas was not an option for them and neither was closing the doors. This family-owned business was not only important to the owners, it was important to their employees and the community as well. Instead of throwing in the towel everyone stood up to fight for their stake in the company. As I prepared to write this article, the CEO called me to say that 2008 was the best financial year in the company's history. What is leading to such a dramatic turnaround? The answer is very simple: visionary and savvy executives are turning to lean for success.
If you have been following these articles for any time, you should have a great resource library for launching and sustaining a lean journey. If you're new to FDM, check out our archive of articles to gain the best appreciation for the rewards to be attained and the commitment to be made on a successful lean initiative. Make sure you and your staff understand the basics to avoid taking a wrong turn and losing the lean focus. It has been a while since I explored the basics for you so let's take a brief trip down that road again.

Understanding the commitment

Every lean initiative has to begin with an understanding of the commitment necessary to ensure success. This part of the journey is not just for the executive staff or owners of the company. Everyone has to be committed to the change process, even stakeholders outside the four walls of the company. To achieve that end, start with a vision that exemplifies the intent of the company and one that is clearly understood by every person in the company. Don't assume that the fancy words on the framed document on your bulletin board and in the front lobby truly reflect company values and attainable objectives, or that everyone in the company has transcribed the words on their heart and mind in a way that ensures all of their decisions exemplify the vision. The vision has to address what your company stands for, where you want to go and how you intend to get there.
The next step is implementing a training program for all stakeholders focused on an introduction to the lean philosophy. Don't get into more detail than you intend to implement or pursue beyond the next 12 months. Lean education should be gradual and phased-in in a timely manner. When everyone is on the same page, introduce a couple of fundamental tools of lean that will allow individuals and small groups to begin to stretch their innovative and creative intellects by taking classroom training to the shop floor for immediate implementation. The initial lean tools that apply to everyone are Workplace Organization (5S) and Changeover Reduction. They provide the foundation for eliminating waste and creating more available time to do productive work. More information on both tools is available in the FDM archives.
Defining priorities for lean should be done in conjunction with the Value Stream Map process that preempts any team-based activity such as a Kaizen Event or team project. Moving forward with an implementation before Value Stream Mapping is like throwing darts at a blank wall hoping to hit the spot where the target is going to be placed later. The efforts will not bring about the desired results. Again, you can search FDM's archives for more information on Value Stream Mapping, or you can obtain a copy of my latest book, Story of a Lean Journey, at or
I recently had someone tell me that his boss pulled the plug on their lean initiative because he heard some bad reports about lean. He also stated their plant was a production shop, not a one-piece-at-a-time plant. That manager clearly doesn't understand the lean philosophy. To put lean in the proper perspective, you need to appreciate the value to be gained from the investment and commitment of resources. Here's an example of some of the results that we, at The Center for Lean Learning LLC, have attained for clients through lean:
Double throughput capacity.
80 percent reduction in Work-In-Process inventory.
50 percent reduction in factory space.
20 percent increase in employee earnings capability through team incentives and other bonus plans.
75 percent reduction in manufacturing lead time.
100 percent on-time customer order completion.
95-plus percent first-time quality yield.
50 percent reduction in engineering custom and special product.
Conversion of batch manufacturing to producing on a daily schedule.
Integration of external supply chain into daily production process.
All these results have been attained with minimal capital investment and no increase in labor. How much more competitive would your company be if you could double production without increased labor cost or ship 100 percent of your orders on time without relying on finished goods inventory? I daresay your company would be a leader in the industry with those kinds of results. So, why isn't your company aggressively pursuing lean?

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