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Learn To Avoid Failure: Lessons From A Lean Consultant

By Amanda Earing, News Editor, Lean manufacturing can improve productivity and quality, shorten lead times, reduce costs and improve competitiveness, but succeeding with lean is not easy. Chris A. Ortiz, author of ‘Lessons from a Lean Consultant,’ tells manufacturers how to avoid lean implementation failures on the shop floor.

Lean manufacturing can improve productivity and quality, shorten lead times, reduce costs, and improve competitiveness, but succeeding with lean is not easy. In “Lessons from a Lean Consultant”, Chris A. Ortiz, owner of Kaizen Assembly and a senior lean consultant, explains how to overcome obstacles, drive value from lean and sustain success for the long term. asked Ortiz how manufacturers can become successful at lean implementations.

Mnet: What inspired you to write this book?

Ortiz: I think there are a lot of good books on lean manufacturing but most of them discuss “what to do.” I felt it was important to outline “what not to do.”  Plus, I have identified common themes among companies that struggle and I explain what those themes are in this book.

Mnet: Who would benefit from reading your book? 

Ortiz: It’s a great read for any engineer -- as well as middle and upper managers -- since they are the ones who support the lean journey and are responsible for the production floor.

Mnet: Is there one lesson do you hope readers gain from ''Lessons from a Lean Consultant''?

Ortiz: The main lesson would be to not wait for the perfect moment to start lean --because there isn’t one. Get some training under your belt and get moving.

Mnet: Even in an economic downturn, can manufacturers go lean?

Ortiz: Yes, often companies will begin lean in reaction to an economic downturn to become more productive and to reduce cost. I have a client right now doing lean to balance the cost of high energy prices. However, there is not only a time commitment but a financial one as well, so money should be invested wisely during this time.

Mnet: You mention in your book that lean fails for seven reasons. What are they?

Ortiz: The seven reasons I cite are:

1. Thinking lean is a program when it is really a business model
2. Not having a kaizen program
3. Not capturing the current state using VSM, time studies, etc.
4. Using lean for the financial gain only
5. Not having a cross-trained workforce
6. Not getting operators and supervisors to “buy into” lean
7. Lack of leadership.

Mnet: Why is it important that everyone “buys into” the lean effort? 

Ortiz: Lean is an overall business strategy and a way of working. Operator buy-in is critical because once a lean implementation is complete in an area they are the ones who will now run the new, more efficient process. And to ensure the company gets the ROI, the new process needs to perform. Also, as more improvements are made, people should be given the chance to make further changes. As a result, lean manufacturing is really a teamwork business philosophy. 

Mnet: Lean management has a human element where all employees must be on board in order for lean efforts to succeed. How can companies be sure they have the right people to support lean manufacturing? 

Ortiz: This is a tough one, but it only comes with experience and recognizing lean will only succeed if the people doing it are treated fairly. 

Mnet: For manufacturers just getting started in lean, what is the first area of their business that should implement a lean program? 

Ortiz: Start small, such as a small work area like maintenance, shipping or the front end of the office. It is also good to find out which area is performing the worst in regards to productivity, quality, inventory build up, floor space use and travel distance and start there.

Mnet: When results are not immediate, or do not follow a scheduled timetable, should manufacturers assume their lean efforts have failed?

Ortiz: Sometimes the results take time, and a lot of companies spend the first 6-8 months learning their way with lean. Keep trying and don’t give up -- the results will come.  Leadership commitment, solid upfront training, involving everyone, accountability and celebrating are all key elements of success in lean.

Mnet: When manufacturers do feel like they are failing, or at least making mistakes, what is the best way to rectify them and get everyone back on track?

Ortiz: There are several ways to rectify mistakes -- often found in these areas:

  • 5S: Keep training and do it right the first time. Make sure you involve the people who work in the area.
  • Data Collection: Make sure those responsible for this are trained in how to collect data and how to evaluate it properly. If possible, hire a lean champion.
  • Operator Fatigue & Safety: Be sure to factor this in and replace older safety products as needed. For example, anti-fatigue mats help cushion operator’s feet, but over time even these products no longer hold up and need to be replaced.
  • Painting and Lighting:  Model this from a fitness center and incorporate it into the plant -- a bright and pleasant environment can help workers stay positive and motivated.

Mnet: In summary, what is the most common mistake manufacturers make during the lean process? 

Ortiz: Simply lack of leadership commitment.

Chris A. Ortiz has spent the majority of his professional career working for Fortune 500 companies, teaching and guiding them to become more efficient businesses. He has also led more than 150 kaizen events around the world. He can be reached at [email protected] or his website