Operations Focus

By Tim Connor, Rodeo! Performance Group, Inc.

Lean is an approach to process improvement that is well-known in manufacturing, but which can be applied to any process. These “S’s” originated in Japan, and help build an environment conducive to a smooth-running process.

Lean is an approach to process improvement that is well-known in manufacturing, but which can be applied to any process. These “S’s” originated in Japan, and help build an environment conducive to a smooth-running process.

Sort

Begin by eliminating unnecessary items from the work area. “Red Tagging” is an effective visual method used to identify unneeded items, which can then either be moved to a central holding area or discarded completely. This step frees up valuable floor space, removes broken or obsolete tools and fixtures, and makes it easier to focus on the job.

Set in Order

The second S focuses on careful storage so the job can be carried on effectively. These are the questions to be asked:

  • What do I need to do my job?
  • Where should I locate this item?
  • How many of this item do I need?

Other strategies for Set in Order are painting schemes that support the work, outlining work areas, shelving and cabinets for necessary items, and standard places for tools and materials needed every day. “A place for everything and everything in it’s place” is a good American version of this S.

Shine

Once the first two steps are completed, and the work space is clear with needed work items in their places, it’s time to thoroughly clean the work area. Why? Because a clean and orderly area makes work easier, raises morale, and really helps staff take pride and ownership in their work and work space. A clean area also makes it easier to spot leaks, deterioration of equipment, misalignments, and broken parts that ultimately lead to equipment failure and loss of production. The impact of the clean work space will show itself in several ways on the bottom line.

Standardize

This step should always involve the staff from the job or area. There are always best practices within a work function, and the first step is to find these practices and bring them to the table. The staff discuss these and come to agreement as to the best, making these the standard for all work in that particular area. But don’t stop with internal best practices, encourage staff to look outside the company, even in other industries. Southwest Airlines benchmarked the Woods Brothers pit team in NASCAR to see how their fast, effective turnaround of vehicles might have application in the airlines.

Sustain

This last step aims at keeping the new changes in place, and it’s the toughest to implement. Why? Because people build habits, and even when those habits are tied to poor methods of work, they’re used to them and find it hard to change. Find ways to reward maintenance of these new changes, especially during the first 3 months. You will find production up, and morale and company pride on the increase.