Frequently Asked Questions

We have answers to all your questions, however silly it may sound


What is Lean ?

Lean is the methodology of elimination of waste and continuous improvement.

What is the Goal of Lean ?

The purpose of Lean is to reduce the lead time and eliminating waste from all business processes, activities and inventory.

Our company is not a big manufacturer or producer of huge quantity of products. Will Lean work for us ?

Sure. Lean will work on businesses of any scale irrespective of their output. The fundamental goal of lean is to eliminate waste and increase efficiency that can help an organization to increase profits over time. Whether it is garments, Tanneries or Apparels and irrelevant of their size, They might all have value added activities or non value added activities. Our job is to evaluate key data and apply appropriate lean tools to eradicate those non value adding activities and make the production line more efficient.

The Idea Smith worked with a wide range of companies all around the globe. Our clients are ranging from big manufacturers to small & medium scale producers. In all cases, our goal is clear. We will study the basics of the organization and key indicators of performance of current activity in order to determine the criteria for the application, which can result in significant improvement and efficiency to the overall productivity.

Are Toyota Production System and Lean Manufacturing different processes ?

This one of the questions that often asked to lean consultants. Technically Both are almost same frameworks of tools and methodologies having different names. For brief, The Toyota Production System aka TPS is a framework of tools and philosophies developed in Toyota. The term “Lean Manufacturing” was coined by James Womac and Daniel Jones in their book to represent the methodologies used by Japanese manufacturers to succeed in international markets. Since Toyota was famous through the times of Japanese manufacturing. Those methodologies also called as TPS. While lean covers framework of tools and philosophies used by entire Japanese manufacturing industry.

What are the benefits of Lean and the time it takes to see results ?

The following are the benefits of lean.

Hard Savings
  • Inventory reductions of more than 3/4th.
  • Reduced cycle time by half to 9/10th.
  • Reduced delivery time by 3/4th.
  • Increased productivity by more than a quarter per annum.
  • Reduction of errors or defects by half to nil.
Flexible savings (typically less immediate direct impact)
  • Save up to half of the cost on space.
  • 99% improvement in delivery time.
  • Improve the results of the staff survey.

Potential risks are identified while lean transformation of a company. The Idea Smith determines the specific saving goals to be achieved. Each goal should be accomplished within the specified timeframe. The Idea Smith ensures financial results in accordance with this assessment. These goals are met accordingly as per plan and on time.

What is Lean Operations ?

Lean Operations in its purest form is the elimination of waste in a process.

What is Business Lean Manufacturing Initiative ?

In today’s competitive environment it has become more important than ever to continuously improve our operations and be as efficient as possible. This will allow Business to continue to grow and win new customers. One demonstrated way to improve our operations is through the application of Lean production techniques. The Lean Manufacturing Initiative will use Lean based tools, techniques and resources to improve Business’s production and servicing processes.

Why is it often called Lean Manufacturing ?

It was only by accident that Lean began in manufacturing and took than name. It’s easier to trip over waste there than most anywhere else.

How does Lean differ from Six Sigma ?

Though different, Lean and Six Sigma are fully complimentary. Six Sigma is based on the use of statistical tools to reduce product and process defects while Lean uses a set of management and problem solving tools to eliminate waste. Because Lean and Six Sigma are fully compatible some lean tools will be incorporated in the Six Sigma Book of Knowledge for BB and MBB training.

How Do 6-Sigma & Lean Tools Relate ?

Lean and Six Sigma are complimentary but are not the same. The basic premise of Six Sigma is to reduce or eliminate defects. The basic premise of Lean is to eliminate waste (defects being one type of waste). The lean tools are less statistical than Six Sigma tools and there are quite a few tools in the Lean tool set that are not in the Six Sigma tool set and vice versa. For example, Six Sigma does not describe value stream maps, quick changeover methodology, 5S, 3P, single piece flow, cellular layout, etc. Lean and six sigma tools working together should allow us to achieve even better results.

What is advantage for Business having implemented Six Sigma ?

Business with fully implemented Six Sigma is in a better position to implement Lean than most companies, because Lean builds on Work-Out and Six Sigma. Lean uses the intelligence and experience of our employees – both hourly and salaried – to improve a process in the way Work-Out did when it was first implemented – when it was a “town meeting” approach to finding the best idea. But lean cannot bring a process under statistical control like Six Sigma can, and Six Sigma alone cannot dramatically improve speed.

If it takes the same number of people, where’s the benefit ?

Faster cycle times, for one thing, and the increased sales that usually brings. Less inventory, for another, be it WIP material in a manufacturing location or unbilled labor hours in a repair facility. And don’t overlook the benefit in cycle efficiency itself. In the table above, if you are an average machine shop with 1% cycle efficiency (meaning the material spends 99% of the time at your shop waiting for someone to physically add value to it) there are tremendous advantages – and many opportunities – in cutting some of that waste.

Lean sounds like another word for “fewer people” Is that true ?

Usually not. At IPP it took more people, in fact, but the work was done much faster and with fewer total man-hours. One of the Japanese Lean techniques is called mizusumashi, which translates as “water spider.” In the Japanese job shop environment the water spider is a senior machinist, sometimes working with an apprentice, who gathers all the tooling and information for a job together with the materials and ensures that the other machinists have everything they need. Lean often entails a shift in who does what, using the same number of people.

Because Lean develops a “rhythm,” there are periods of time that people will be available for planned maintenance (Lean calls it Total Productive Maintenance, or TPM). Because we consider Indirect Labor undesirable we need to ensure that TPM is truly productive, and control it with Standard Operations.

If you find that Lean requires fewer people because your cycle time is so much better you’d best put those people on preparing for extra volume because that’s what you’re going to get in this cycle-driven business.

Do you really believe there’s that much waste ?

Walk through your shop and count how many people are actually adding value to the part or assembly they are working on – how many are changing the physical state of the product to bring it closer to what the customer wants, like applying weld, making chips, wrapping insulation, spraying paint, etc. How many people do you count moving material, looking for a tool or some information, setting up a machine tool or determining job status?

What percentage of people in that snapshot view are actually adding value to the product ?

In the lingo of Lean, this is called your cycle efficiency. In most cases your snapshot will be comparable to the more accurate measurement – value-added time over total lead time. Here’s an eye-opening chart:

Application Typical Cycle Efficiency World-Class Cycle Efficiency
Machining 1% 20%
Fabrication 10% 25%
Assembly 15% 35%
Continuous Manufacturing 30% 80%
Business Processes – Transactional 10% 50%
Business Processes – Creative/Cognitive 5% 25%

Action Work Out? What is that ?

Action Work Outs, or AWOs are blue jean, get dirty days that both hourly and management personnel enjoy. Some have a Japanese Sensei (“teacher”) and some are done internally. In both of them several teams of hourly and salaried people focused on the Lean aspects that will best improve cycle efficiency at that location, focused on the Center Manager’s goals. Small shops who want to implement Lean prefer to have a small group meet bi-weekly to identify and address specific issues. It is often the same group as the Grassroots Team assembled for Culture Change. The methods are typically low tech and low buck – quite a change from my last job where the digitization team was always looking at how technology might solve the problem.

Isn’t this “Just in Time” manufacturing ?

JIT is simply receiving a shipment of inventory just as you are about to run out. It is little more than delaying your replenishment order. Lean, in contrast, is all about moving a product or repair through the shop faster.

Where can I get more information about Lean ?

Additional information about lean can be found on this site. In addition, there is a list of recommended reading materials, which provide a good foundation for understanding lean principles, but You have to remember that Lean is real actionable work. It’s the purest work on business process and it can give You only practical Lean Action Work Out.

How Do I Define a Line or Cell ?

It has to do with how equipment is arranged so people & materials interact in an efficient fashion. Process steps need to follow the PR analysis with no material queuing between process steps. The net effect is the lead time (cycle time) is shortened. This is why we create lines or cells. Here are the defining attributes of a line or cell:

  • Single Piece Flow
  • TAKT Time Production
  • Pull Production
  • Standard Work
  • Standard WIP

Why is a Model Line Important ?

Since Lean is derived from the Toyota production system, our businesses need to understand how the Lean tools apply to them. The most effective way to do this is to pick one place in a business and deploy as much of the Lean toolkit as possible. This gives you the ability to demonstrate the use of the tools so you are no longer talking theory. This pays off big-time when you begin translating the toolkit to other parts of your business.

What Does Translation Mean ?

Once you build a model line, you have demonstrated how the lean concepts apply to your business. We can take those learnings and apply them to other parts of the business through translation. We are translating concept for instance, the way that DASH designed pull may not be the exact way you do it. Your solution should be tailored to your needs. This is how lean is designed; lean teaches the concepts. It is up to everyone in your area to work together to convert the concept to a solution that works for you & your customers.

How Should I Setup My Supermarket ?

There are 2 basic supermarket situations:

A supermarket that supports a line producing to TAKT time should arrange the items to be a mirror image of the material presentation on the line, this includes items that go into kits.

A supermarket containing accessories or options heavily used at the end of the quarter should arrange the items to be in alpha-numeric sequence. Because of the end of the quarter rush, we tend to have strangers picking, this makes it easier for people to know where items are.

What do I do with the Supermarket when Components are Used on Multiple Lines ?

We must always begin by fully understanding which components go into which products & on which lines/cells (Part Geneology, Product Tree & PQ Analysis will help). The components in the supermarket should then be divided into:

  • Components unique to only 1 specific product; grouped together by product
  • Components unique to 1 line/cell (multiple products); arranged alpha-numeric
  • Components used across multiple lines in a factory; arranged alpha-numeric

How do I know if I should do kitting or a 2-bin style material presentation ?

There is no definitive answer to this however, we do have factors to consider. Like most of the Lean tools, TAKT Time will be our reference point. Here’s a good rule of thumb. If the kit accumulation time is more than 25% of the TT, you may be spending too much time making the kit, and a 2 bin system might be the best solution for you.

At What Percent on the PQ Paretto Should I Cutoff Make-To-Forecast & do Make-To-Order ?

There is no definitive answer to this, but there are factors to consider. 80/20 Rule, Testing Time, Quality Issues & Supplier Lead Times for the low runners on the PQ paretto. As you become more proficient with Heijunka you should migrate to producing as many of the models as possible to Make-To-Forecast.

Who Performs TPM in My Shop ?

TPM is performed by a professional group within your organization, not the operators. Operators are responsible for ensuring quality standards & performing standard work.

What exactly is 'Kaizen' and what is a “kaizen workshop” ?

Kaizen is a Japanese word which roughly translates to continuous improvement. In the context of Lean manufacturing, kaizen is understood to signify small, incremental, yet frequent improvements to a process. Lean philosophy states that instead of making large changes that may require significant amounts of investment and risk, the kaizen mindset aims to make process improvements without

  • Adding people to the process,
  • Adding space to the process, and
  • Without spending any money to implement the change (this last one is usually the hardest for companies follow).

The Idea Smith’s approach towards teaching the adoption of the kaizen mindset is by completing so-called kaizen workshops. These are 3-5-day focused efforts by a cross-functional team that focus on implementing changes within a production area. Tasked with a specific objective and scope agreed upon by upper management, the kaizen team must meet all of its objectives by the end of the workshop. The The Idea Smith representative’s role is to act as teacher to not only achieve savings by the end of the week, but also to ensure that sufficient knowledge-transfer is taking place.

The figure below shows how small incremental improvements can have a large positive impact over time. The pie chart represents a typical process having value-added and non-value added elements. The kaizen activity aims at reducing this non-value added portion of a process. We see that after each kaizen workshop the process is more and more efficient (has less and less non-value added activities).

What changes can employees expect as a result of a Lean transformation ?

One of the goals of Lean is to move decision making closest to the customer, or in other words, as close as possible to the physical product or service, since this is what the customer receives. Since the individual operator is the closest human to the product, the goal becomes to move decision making to this level. Consequently, the first and immediate change that employees notice is that they have more significant input in the production methods of their work area. This empowerment often motivates team members to accomplish unexpected level of performance both for their own development as well as the company’s productivity gains.

Naturally, employee empowerment is much more comprehensive than management simply stating that moving forward employees will be empowered. It involves setting guidelines and boundaries, rolling out the process in a deliberate and well communicated manner, and making adjustments when appropriate. The Idea Smith works with upper management to ensure that this cultural shift towards lean does not jeopardize company morale or productivity.

What change in duties or responsibility can managers expect as a result of a Lean transformation ?

While empowering employees will certainly drive quality, cost and delivery improvement ideas, it will also task managers to remove organizational barriers in order to implement these ideas. The speed and agility with which these inquiries are answered will directly affect the success of the lean program.

The Idea Smith works hand-in-hand with the company’s management team to provide guidance and feedback regarding how to most effectively communicate direction and execute the necessary support.

If Lean will ultimately require less people, what happens to freed-up personnel ?

In order to receive involvement from employees, it is crucial that they have no fear of job loss following a kaizen activity. In practice, this means that if a post-kaizen process requires less employees, the freed-up personnel should not be let go, but re-deployed elsewhere in the company.

Having said this, it is fully understood that to obtain credit for a cost reduction, the company must operate with a net headcount reduction. This is usually solved by not replacing employees during normal attrition (retirements, voluntary leaving, promotions, etc…) or by not renewing temporary / part-time worker contracts. In most all cases, this practice which is communicated up-front during the kick-off communication of lean implementation is acceptable to both managers and shop floor personnel.

What is a Lean Promotions Office (LPO) ?

In order to systematically implement lean principles within company, it is very helpful for a single individual be tasked with leading the lean implementation program on a full-time basis. This experienced manager heads a so-called Lean Promotions Office and is tasked with responsibilities such as:

  • Function as leader for the company’s lean implementation
  • Act as a liaison between The Idea Smith and the client to ensure efficient knowledge-transfer.
  • Participates in all The Idea Smith-lead kaizen events
  • The first person trained to manage kaizen events and is expected to lead their own kaizen events
  • With management buy-in and support, set the implementation plan and ensure its execution.
  • Is responsible for developing and executing a company-wide Lean training plan
  • Is responsible for ensuring that kaizen events are lead by other in the company (production managers and supervisors, engineers, etc…)
  • Acts as liaison between the shop floor and management. Ensures that Lean goals align with the company’s strategic direction and objectives
  • Measures savings from accomplished from each kaizen workshop and communicates these with accounting

Where does Six Sigma fit in with Lean (and vice versa) ?

In general, six sigma focuses on the value added elements of a process by reducing variation, and therefore defects, from the process. In contrast, the emphasis of lean is on eliminating waste from non-value added activities. The 7 wastes are overproduction, defects, unnecessary motion, inventory, space, transportation and waiting time.

The Idea Smith’s view is that lean and six sigma can work well together. Our approach is to “reduce lead-time through the elimination of waste” and we use any relevant tools that accomplish this objective.

What next steps should I take if I would like to move forward with Lean? What is The Idea Smith's process ?

Companies wishing to further understand the results that The Idea Smith can achieve at their location should request an introductory conference call. The objective of this call is to answer any preliminary questions that your company may have regarding the implementation process. It also provides us with an opportunity to become more familiar with your company’s history and culture. During the call, The Idea Smith will present 1) the major elements of lean theory, 2) the typical implementation process and 3) key points of The Idea Smith’s differentiation. Key managers are invited to participate on the call as appropriate for your evaluation process.

Following the call, if both parties see a potential fit, the next step is to schedule an on-site visit during which The Idea Smith completes a Lean assessment. This detailed evaluation, carried out over several days, will measure your company’s current practices as well as allow The Idea Smith to better understand the business’ unique drivers and challenges. The deliverable from the assessment is a specific lean implementation proposal which is presented either in person or via conference call directly following the visit.

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