There has been a lot written, and there will likely be more written, regarding how successful IWF2012 was, but I would like to share my perspective from a speaker’s point of view.

I have made lean-focused presentations at webinars, seminars, and conferences before, but, unlike other venues, this audience was eager, participative, and passionate about learning all they could about lean. At IWF 2010 there were about 15 attendees for my session, this time there were more than 80. That alone speaks volumes regarding how lean is being aggressively pursued in our industry. A few years ago the lean business philosophy was as foreign to furniture industry leaders as the competition that was eating away at our global market share. That is no longer the case. I am excited about the future of our industry and I hope you are, as well. You and your staff can beat the competition regardless of their wage/benefit structure or whether their government is subsidizing their inability to profitably manage operations. We have the expertise, experience, skills, abilities, equipment, facilities, people, and now the passion to not only survive, but to thrive.

Speaking of thriving, I want to get back to the story of the lean transformation that is underway at Brad’s company. I spent a few days there this month to help smooth out some more bumps and, like the perspective I shared above, I was very impressed with how the staff is moving toward self-sustainment of a lean thinking culture. Unfortunately, there are no pictures to share with you of the assembly process, but I would like to describe a couple of changes in individual work areas that represent a direct result of Brad authorizing (Empowering from the 6Es – see the archives for more detail on the 6Es) each employee to make positive change happen in their area of control.

Mobile tool carts 

The assembly team had previously organized all of their tools onto a shadow board for easier access and control. They took that thinking a step farther and designed and built two small, identical, mobile carts to hold all of the tools, hardware, glue, etc. that they use on a recurring basis.

The two carts allow each person to float from one end of the assembly bench to the other without having to carry tools with them and the carts keep all of the clutter off of the bench so more productive work can be accomplished. Since the carts are mobile they can be moved out of the way as necessary to accommodate any size cabinet that might be next in line. The team has increased their capacity another 20 percent simply by removing the waste of unnecessary motion and movement.

Flow between stations 

Meanwhile, the CNC operator has continued to improve his process by eliminating a workstation that he recognized was accumulating clutter and causing him to travel a greater distance as he worked around an unnecessary object. By removing the workstation he was able to shrink the footprint of his work area and get closer to his internal customer, the edgebander.
CNC, edgeband, and the panel saw processes have evolved into a cross-functional team focusing on creating flow that is balanced to takt time. One of the communication devices they put in place is a board that is placed between jobs. The board originates at the panel saw and alerts each subsequent process when one job ends and the next one starts.

This simple device flows through CNC and then is recycled to the panel saw. The team has also defined the proper sequence of parts, and arranges them in that prescribed order, so the next operator doesn’t have to rearrange parts before starting the job. Plant-wide throughput has already been increased by a factor of three and the parts processing team believes the new improvements will increase their capacity another 40 percent.

Tracking goals 

Brad’s initial goals for the lean transformation were:

1.Find a lean coach to lead the initial implementation.

2.Eliminate “Muda” (waste).

3.Clean up the working environment.

4.Reduce inventory, WIP (work in progress), and batch sizes.

5.Work towards one-piece flow through the shop.

6.Decrease lead time.

7.Increase employee satisfaction.

8.Create a more secure job environment for all.

9.Achieve greater accuracy in job estimates through better control of production and cost.

10.Become more profitable.

I like where he placed becoming more profitable in the list of goals. Brad understands enough about lean to know that if all of the other goals are achieved, enhanced profit will be a natural result. So far, the first seven goals are tracking along very well. Number eight cannot be guaranteed, but it should also be a natural result of successfully achieving each of the other goals while systematically applying the other tools and techniques of lean as the journey reaches greater levels of maturity.

As this article was being prepared, Brad sent an email indicating that July was a record sales month and indicators were that August would surpass July. Brad didn’t specifically have increased throughput as one of his goals, but sales is now at a pace three times the historical average.

Next steps 

The next two steps in the lean transformation are to move Workplace Organization and 5S Thinking beyond the individual workstation, and to train the leadership team in the skills that are required to effectively lead in a lean environment.

Both the plant manager and the engineering manager have developed executable plans to organize the entire enterprise with an emphasis on connecting all of the internal customer and supplier relationships to eliminate gaps and create seamless flow of materials and information. To enhance their ability to lead in a lean environment, I will be working one-on-one with both of those managers to ensure they understand how to identify improvement opportunities in the gemba and then help them challenge their staffs to turn those opportunities into achievements that will attain and sustain company objectives.

You may have just been introduced to a new word – gemba. Basically it is a Japanese term that means “where the work gets done.” So, when you hear someone say they are “going to gemba” that means they are not relying on memory or hearsay to determine what the current state of affairs is, they are going out to where the work is done and observe the situation first-hand. The plant manager and I will be spending a lot of time in gemba as part of his coaching. I will share the results of those discoveries in future articles.

Achieve greater accuracy in job estimates through better control of production and cost.

10.Become more profitable.

I like where he placed becoming more profitable in the list of goals. Brad understands enough about lean to know that if all of the other goals are achieved, enhanced profit will be a natural result. So far, the first seven goals are tracking along very well. Number eight cannot be guaranteed, but it should also be a natural result of successfully achieving each of the other goals while systematically applying the other tools and techniques of lean as the journey reaches greater levels of maturity.

As this article was being prepared, Brad sent an email indicating that July was a record sales month and indicators were that August would surpass July. Brad didn’t specifically have increased throughput as one of his goals, but sales is now at a pace three times the historical average.

Next steps 

The next two steps in the lean transformation are to move Workplace Organization and 5S Thinking beyond the individual workstation, and to train the leadership team in the skills that are required to effectively lead in a lean environment.

Both the plant manager and the engineering manager have developed executable plans to organize the entire enterprise with an emphasis on connecting all of the internal customer and supplier relationships to eliminate gaps and create seamless flow of materials and information. To enhance their ability to lead in a lean environment, I will be working one-on-one with both of those managers to ensure they understand how to identify improvement opportunities in the gemba and then help them challenge their staffs to turn those opportunities into achievements that will attain and sustain company objectives.

You may have just been introduced to a new word – gemba. Basically it is a Japanese term that means “where the work gets done.” So, when you hear someone say they are “going to gemba” that means they are not relying on memory or hearsay to determine what the current state of affairs is, they are going out to where the work is done and observe the situation first-hand. The plant manager and I will be spending a lot of time in gemba as part of his coaching. I will share the results of those discoveries in future articles.

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