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Diagnosing lean

A journey in five steps.

February 21, 2016   by Richard Kunst

Implementing lean is not a destination but rather a journey, and in most cases putting a basic infrastructure in place takes up to five years, the first two being the most difficult.

A Step Diagnostic greatly aids this transformation. It provides the following: a planning tool with time increments; an organizational roadmap, showing which methodologies an organization will be implementing and the potential impact on the upper KPIs; an organizational lexicon that defines KPIs and enablers; and a diagnostic that quickly assesses how the organization is doing.

Along the top of the diagnostic Kunst Solutions has created are KPIs with improvements gradually included along the five steps. Additional KPIs are added as more sophisticated metrics are needed to identify waste as the journey progresses. Enablers along the bottom of the diagnostic drive improvement in the metrics. Tabs with definitions support the enablers because people are seldom on the same page when it comes to definitions and how the desired future state should look.

Normally each step takes about a year to complete but some senior managers believe their organizations are smarter than everyone else and with their capable leadership, implementation will be faster.

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Great! So make each step a quarter, month, week or day but be aware that it’s easy to install enablers. Managing culture speed is quite another matter. Indeed, it’s the greatest inhibitor of change.

Each diagnostic must be specific to the operation and the KPIs aligned to accounting budgets to ensure they’ll deliver the numbers in the time allowed. You now have a roadmap.

Aligning plants, managers and continuous improvement people is like herding cats into a cardboard box. Normally head office wants everyone to work on the same initiative (enabler) and then move to the next one. Each plant has a different priority, so they’ll want to work on different enablers, which is acceptable because eventually all the sites will converge.

Common goals

And don’t ignore the cultural difference between sites. For example turnover is a big issue for one plant, so it’s very focused on standardized work, creating visual standard work instructions (VSWI) and rapid training models. On the other hand, another plant needs formal problem solving to eliminate disturbances to flow. The diagnostic brings them together on one page and each site sets its own priority and they work towards a common goal.

Posting the diagnostic shows everyone all of the enablers, which eliminates the feeling of “flavour of the month” as people see how they all tie together. 

A simple self-diagnostic is conducted annually and is included in an annual review. Performance is noted with colour. For example, KPIs could be red=not met, green=you met plan. For the enablers, red=not planned or started, yellow=planned or started but not yet effective, green=implemented and working successfully, blue= able to train others. Blue is also used to denote the centre of excellence (COE) within a division. All plants must conform to the COE, which must conduct at least an annual audit to ensure the best practice is used. The COE owns the VSWIs and this ensures all sites will eventually deliver similar numbers. A 5% gap will generate a visit by the COE.

Experience suggests plants will lag meeting their KPIs after implementing the enablers by one year. If the first two years of enablers are green, the year one KPI will turn green.

Richard Kunst is president and CEO of Cambridge, Ont.-based Kunst Solutions Corp., which helps companies become more agile, develop evolutionary management and implement lean solutions.


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Facilities Maintenance General Operations Manufacturing KPIs Lean lean manufacturing maintenance manufacturing Operations


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