In-Plant Graphics

By David Jones

LEAN, THE practice of continually identifying and eliminating waste in an organization, is very often a misunderstood term or phrase. Too many people associate it with the phrase "Lean and Mean," which has become a euphemism for laying people off, working with too few staff, working staff long hours and micromanaging every activity to lower costs—often at the expense of quality. It's ironic, then, that the practice of Lean is the exact opposite of the phrase "Lean and Mean.

Many credit Henry Ford for inventing the Lean concepts. Others say you have to go back to the Greek or Roman Empires. Wherever it started is interesting, but somewhat academic. What is important is how to use this powerful methodology and philosophy to improve any organization. Whether it's an in-plant, a hospital or a government agency, all can use Lean to give a better quality product or service at a low cost with on-time delivery.

The most famous organization utilizing Lean is The Toyota Motor Manufacturing Co. Toyota has been practicing and perfecting the concepts for more than 50 years and still maintains the continued improvement process. So if you are looking for a quick fix solution, Lean is not for you. But then again, we have seen what quick fixes and short-term thinking have done to our economy lately. Maybe we all need to have the long-term, mutual benefit mentality that is prevalent at Toyota.

Eliminate Waste

There are many facets to Lean, but for simplicity let's take a look at some fundamentals. First, let's talk about the concept of non-value added (NVA). In Lean this means an activity that does not change the fit, form or function of a product or service but utilizes resources and therefore increases costs to the customer. These NVA are all classified as waste.

An example in the printing world might be an operator searching to find the correct wrench to complete a changeover or make–ready. This time spent searching for things is classified as NVA or "Waste." (Toyota uses the Japanese term "muda.")

Other examples might be running excessively large batches through a process, creating situations where material or work in process (WIP) has to be constantly moved around and/or held in storage prior to completion. Meanwhile downstream processes are waiting for completed products to work on.

Waste is not confined just to the more easily identified manufacturing side of things but can manifest itself throughout the organization. An example might be inaccurate work instructions leading to waiting time or the generation of rework or, even worse, scrap product.

A simple test to see if an activity is NVA or not is to ask this question: "Would the customer be happy to pay for the activity I have just carried out?" If that activity was completing your time sheet, then an honest answer would be no; it's not value-added from the customer point of view.

Are You Expendable?

This leads to another, somewhat disturbing, realization: managers and supervisors, by the very nature of their activity, are classed as NVA. We cannot, of course, have organizations without those positions, but in Lean we need to need to be mindful of the real goal to provide the lowest cost, highest quality for the customer in the quickest time. Any supervisor or managerial activity that is not supporting that goal should be examined to see if it can be reduced or eliminated.

The last statement may have you now wondering if Lean is actually mean because it seems to advocate elimination of positions, particularly managers and supervisors. That is not the case, and to make the Lean philosophy and culture of an organization sustainable, no one should be let go because waste is reduced and improvements made. People need to be reassigned to engage on value-added tasks or to work on constantly reducing NVA for others. (i.e. managers, supervisors and HR should be challenging the systems to reduce as much waste as possible.)

Three Parts to Lean

So what is the strategy to become a successful operation like Toyota? There are three major elements to Lean that need to be addressed.

1. Company philosophy. To be a real Lean organization, the company philosophy needs to recognize that it currently has plenty of waste within its operation and that the managers and owners must embrace the concepts of Lean. This might mean letting go and allowing staff to use its initiative to recognize and make improvements.

2. Company culture. Lean culture is one that embraces problems and asks why an issue occurred, not who was responsible for doing it wrong. Changing the company culture as one implements Lean is one of the huge hurdles companies need to address.

3. Implementation. Lean technologies need to be learned and implemented. This is best achieved by formal training for all staff so everyone understands the basics and the need to change the way things are carried out. In addition to formal training, hands-on activities like value stream mapping (a process to identify where the best impact can be made) and Kaizen events (short, focused, staff-driven improvement activities) need to become part of the organization's goal to make improvements on a continual basis.

Becoming Lean is not an overnight or quick fix activity. There will be what appear to be insurmountable issues, many of which relate to the current company culture and philosophy. The implementation will take time. Toyota has been practicing Lean for 50 years, and its managers will tell you that they still can make more improvements.

Lean in the In-plant

Geoff Brandt, State Printer at California's Office of Publishing (OSP), which began its Lean journey in 2003, concurs with that assessment. Even though his in-plant has made excellent improvements, Brandt says the continuing challenge is to follow up and maintain the momentum.

"We are still dealing with the philosophical and cultural issues, and many of our staff who have been with us for many years still struggle with this new environment," he says.

Brandt also says that, in his opinion, "OSP has to keep going with Lean because the print world is going through immense changes, and Lean will enable us to be flexible and agile enough to cope with the rapid change in the industry." IPG

David Jones is the Development Director of Total Excellence in Manufacturing(TEiM) based in Sacramento California. TEiM specializes in assisting organizations world wide implement Lean and guide them through the technology, cultural and philosophy hurdles. TEiM's clients include several in-plant facilities including the Sate of California Office of Publishing. (OSP) and several other print-related packaging companies. David can be reached

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