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Making Lean Work

(February 2007) posted on Sun Feb 25, 2007

Committing to lean manufacturing can be an intimidating proposition for those who aren't prepared for change. This article explains how implementing lean step-by-step can benefit print providers.

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By Les deHamer

Lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, Kaizen, and Kanban are terms that, for most printers, bring on a sense of confusion, misunderstanding, and yes -- even fear. Many of us believe we need some mystical Japanese teaching to be able to understand and apply the techniques that have led some of the Japanese auto makers to record years of performance and profitability. The truth of the matter is that although we may need some assistance in getting started, many printers already have the basic principles in place for being able to start down the road to lean manufacturing.

One of the traditional roadblocks associated with the journey of lean manufacturing is the misunderstanding that a company needs to hire an expert to initiate a companywide change of culture. I believe that this overwhelming challenge is what has held back our industry from beginning down the lean pathway. The need to hire a full-time, in-house lean expert can be a very expensive undertaking and is not necessary, given that consultants are available who can serve as experts for rent. Regardless of where the expert comes from, the more important challenge is understanding the companywide cultural change that comes with lean manufacturing.


Initiating and supporting change

What happens to a pond when the water doesn't change? It becomes stagnant, life stops, and the pond dies. By nature, humans are very resistant to change. But in organizational life, few things are as constant as change itself. Markets change continually in a competitive world, and to survive, a business must be willing and ready to adapt to shifting economic and market conditions. If we fail to learn, adapt, adjust, and change, we can face commercial extinction. So the question must be asked and answered: How should we implement change?

Most companies don't manage change, they impose it. Most change comes downhill from management. Change is often done using a top-to-bottom process, making employees feel like they have been acted upon, rather than being active participants. A leader's role is to manage the change process by providing order, structure, and direction.


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