Lean Assessments

To get started, you will need (among other things) an open and objective assessment that evaluates current practices on the shop floor. You need an insight into where the Six Hidden Wastes exist and how to remove them. The assessment should be simple enough for the shop floor personnel to use and have enough detail for management to know where to put the improvement efforts. A good assessment will reduce the cost of false starts during implementation and identify where the greatest ROI can be gained.

An assessment of the entire organization should also include those non-manufacturing activities that influence the overall performance of the organization, including sales, order processing, purchasing, and customer service. Wastes exist in each of these departments, I assure you—just as it does in manufacturing or assembly.

The assessment should be completed by more than one person and a cross-functional team usually works best. Be sure to include someone from outside the work-center being assessed. Consultants or quality personnel from sister plants or associated organizations also provide a good source of “unbiased eyes.”

When people working within a process assess themselves, they often cannot see the forest because of the trees. They are too close to the process and have become used to the way things are. Someone asking “Why?” will often lead to the discussion that reveals hidden waste and root causes.

The assessment should be designed to only identify potential improvement opportunities and estimate their impact on production. The assessment should not identify how to fix the problems found. It should simply identify opportunities, not potential solutions.

Assessment Questions
1. Have job instructions (Standard Operating Procedures) been standardized and are they being followed?
2. Are clear and easy-to-understand Visual Controls available to help the workers?
3. Are there systematic replenishment practices being used to minimize temporary materials storage and transportation?
4. Are there standardized containers and markings as part of a materials scheduling and tracking system?
5. Are traveling or movement sequences for processes laid out to provide economical flow from beginning to end?
6. Are all tools properly accounted for at the end of each shift and do they have clearly-marked and clearly-designated homes?
7. Are SPC charts being used on equipment to monitor effectiveness daily?

Your assessment will probably reveal the need to fix some things. The many tools of Lean manufacturing and services will be described in the coming weeks’ posts.

You may find that you need more than one of the tools I discuss later for a given situation. That’s perfectly fine, normal even. Many of the tools can be used together as parts of a broader overall initiative because many of them complement one another.

These tools can be added to Six Sigma techniques to create a more dynamic improvement effort. Each tool will help to remove wastes and reduce the cost of operations. No matter which tool you choose to start with, they will all save your organization money.

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