10 Steps To Defining A Lean Manufacturing Strategy

Making customers and their needs the catalyst that drives the intensity to improve is the defining trait of all successful lean manufacturing strategies today.

Manufacturers who emerge to dominate their industries are ingraining quality into every step of their production process. They attain and stay at high manufacturing quality levels by reflex; it’s become part of their DNA.

One of the best approaches to making high manufacturing quality levels a core part of any company’s DNA is to define and excel at a lean manufacturing strategy.

A lean strategy serves as the blueprint for bringing process and quality improvements to every aspect of every plant and production center. It guides the defining, deployment, managing and optimizing of lean manufacturing goals, putting the customers and their needs at the heart of all improvement efforts.

The bottom line is that excelling at a lean manufacturing strategy attracts new customers, delights existing ones and fuels higher gross margins.

Lean Manufacturing Strategies Deliver What Customers Want Most

Removing the roadblocks that get in the way of customers getting to their goals needs to drive every production improvement a company makes. Defining and excelling at every aspect of a lean manufacturing strategy removes processes and workflows that waste time and valuable resources.

The eight categories of waste lean manufacturing strategies help reduce include overproduction; waiting on order status and shipments; not getting an order due to a lack of inventory; transportation delays; the backlog of orders on the shop floor; defects caught by quality assurance after production; and a lack of workforce skills and availability.

These are the eight categories of waste that reduce a company’s ability to be responsive to customers, dragging down quality strategies at the same time. Defining a lean manufacturing strategy that attacks these areas of waste wins new customers and wins the trust and loyalty of existing ones.

The following graphic explains the eight categories of waste lean manufacturing strategies need to concentrate on:

8 sources of waste

10 Steps To Defining A Lean Manufacturing Strategy

Improving product quality by reducing variability, eliminating non-value adding steps in production, standardizing work processes, identifying and resolving production constraints and providing real-time performance visibility are just a few of the many benefits of adopting a lean manufacturing strategy.

The following are 10 steps for creating a lean manufacturing strategy:

1. Create lean manufacturing objectives that are traceable from the shop floor to the top floor and provide data on financial performance.

Manufacturers often take a pilot-based approach to quantifying the three most critical areas needing lean process improvement. Others will redesign the entire manufacturing process at once. Pilots provide the advantage of being able to isolate only the most relevant factors over time and measure them with precision.

Taking on an entire manufacturing operation at once is the most common strategy when a key process area urgently needs help. An example of this is completely redefining work instructions across an entire series of factory locations to minimize the number of defective products being produced.

2. Define metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) that provide insights on lean performance from the shop floor to the top floor for each lean goal.

Getting visibility from the shop floor to the top floor is invaluable in managing shop floor operations to financial goals. Select a cross-selection of metrics and KPIs that provide in-depth shop floor performance that can be measured in financial terms.

Many manufacturers include First Pass Yield, Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), labor hours per production unit, Supplier Defect Rate, Cost of Quality, Customer Complaints, Perfect order Performance and more.

It’s best to have a balance of metrics that track customer experience and responsiveness, quality, production efficiency, inventory, compliance, maintenance manufacturing and cost & profitability performance.

These metrics and KPIs are the foundations of any successful lean manufacturing strategy scaling over the long-term.

3. Give every employee a chance to own the objectives by creating an open, active change management program that gives every employee an opportunity to excel.

Lean manufacturing strategies that revolutionize manufacturing operations define what success looks like for each employee. They are transparent enough to show how each person’s efforts matters and their contributions count.

The highest performing lean manufacturing strategies excel at change management by giving everyone a chance to make solid contributions to the growth of the company. Define a senior management leader who will have the authority to remove organizational roadblocks to getting more done.

Establish a cross-functional team during this step that can scale across value-stream mapping, advanced lean analysis.

4. Use value-stream mapping to determine why these areas are not performing and what the root cause factors are.

A value stream map is a process diagram that provides insights into gaps and deficiencies in manufacturing processes. It’s an invaluable technique for determining root-cause factors that drive defects in product quality, production performance.

The most critical gaps in manufacturing performance are often discovered using value-stream mapping, making it an excellent technique for defining a roadmap to lean manufacturing improvement.

5. Take value-stream mapping to the work instruction, tool movement, and tool calibration level in trouble areas to fully diagnose areas of waste.

In a leading aerospace and defense manufacturer specializing in Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) parts and services, a value stream mapping of work instructions found that operators were getting confused on exception handling of custom orders.

This had resulted in a 9% reduction in custom MRO products orders. Using value stream mapping the confusion in the workflows and process was found and corrected.

6. Define the future state value stream map for each of manufacturing process down to the process and workflow level and set the takt time goals for each.

In our experience, value stream maps are most useful in finding gaps that drive quality down or cause delays in order fulfillment.

Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to track takt time performance for any process over time. Takt time is the rate a product needs to be completed to meet customer demand.

7. Using the insights gained from value stream mapping and takt time analysis, redesign workflows on the shop floor to save time and reduce errors.

The essence of Six Sigma and its DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) framework is perfecting each aspect of production to align with customers’ needs, preferences, and requirements.

Streamlining shop floor workflows to excel at take time, order cycle time and perfect order performance all contributes to improving take time.

8. Implement a visual control system that tracks plant floor performance gains due to lean manufacturing improvements and reports real-time updates on key metrics and KPIs.

The highest-performing plants and production centers ingrain customer and lean manufacturing analytics and KPIs into their cultures. Investing in creating a visual control system that tracks plant floor performance is invaluable in focusing a plant on what matters most.

These real-time updates also provide insights not available before on each aspect of lean manufacturing performance.

9. Implement ongoing plant-floor programs to reduce the eight types of waste with a concentrated focus on reducing motion, alleviating extra processing and reducing quality defects.

Targeting the eight major sources of waste is the quickest path to becoming stronger as a manufacturer. Many manufacturers find that reducing motion, alleviating extra processing and reducing quality defects are the fastest wins after completing value stream mapping.

Go after quick wins that deliver exponentially greater benefits with programs aimed at the eight major areas of waste.

10. Based on the insights gained from value stream mapping and lean plant-floor improvements, define lean strategies to better manage production flows, inventory levels, order fulfillment, and demand forecasting.

Setting goals and measuring the progress in these areas and more are the next phase of a successful lean manufacturing strategy.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems can provide the workflow and application tools to improve each of these four areas and successfully grow any manufacturing business.


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Jayaram, J., Vickery, S., & Droge, C. (2008). Relationship building, lean strategy, and firm performance: an exploratory study in the automotive supplier industry. International Journal Of Production Research, 46(20), 5633-5649.

Nauhria, Y., Wadhwa, S., & Pandey, S. (2009). ERP Enabled Lean Six Sigma: A Holistic Approach for Competitive Manufacturing. Global Journal Of Flexible Systems Management, 10(3), 35-43.

For more than 25 years, IQMS has been designing and developing manufacturing ERP software for the repetitive, process and discrete industries. Today, IQMS provides a comprehensive real-time ERP software and MES solution to the automotive, medical, packaging, consumer goods and other manufacturing markets. The extended single-database enterprise software solution, EnterpriseIQ, offers a scalable system designed to grow with the client and complete business functionality, including accounting, quality control, supply chain, shop floor, CRM and eBusiness. With offices across North America, Europe and Asia, IQMS serves manufacturers around the world. For more information, please visit iqms.com.
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