Almost 70 years ago, Japanese engineers developed a manufacturing system to pull through workflow and reduce waste and error.  Today, we know this system widely as the Toyota Production System.  Many businesses employ versions of this in proprietary or standard bench-marked ways.  Lean Manufacturing, Lean Six-Sigma, JIT and Pull Systems are all terms for this system we are familiar with.  Continuous improvement and reproducible results are the key goals that drive staff to find inefficiencies and error prone processes.  At LaunchWorks Manufacturing Lab, we have found that successful implementation of visual workflow is a great start towards a lean culture, which engages each employee at all stages of the value stream.  The following is a recommendation on how to start.  Subsequent updates will work through five more steps of organization that can lead you on your way to a fully integrated, low maintenance, high-yield workflow.

Step 1) Teach “Waste”

 We all know waste exists in many forms.  Start simple and review the standard 7 wastes.  Don’t be shy, put up the posters!  Make incentives to identify wastes in office workflow, communication (email) workflow and actual manufacturing flow.  This is a good time to try fun activities like creating a spaghetti diagram.  Learning about forms of inefficiency doesn’t mean people do a poor job currently—it means they could do a better job and be more rewarded for it.  None of us like to feel that we’ve designed an inefficient process, so be supportive of your team and demonstrate how the process in review worked well for the time and how everything evolves with business and technology.  No one is ever a single point failure in a process; encourage transparency and seek current state activity—not what the process is supposed to be.  Sometimes workarounds are uncovered and, while they’re not suggested practice, there is typically a real gain in efficiency when fully implemented.  Remember that even recapturing floor space for future use is a reduction in waste.


Step 2) Clear out the Time Burglars

Remember the Hamburglar?  Well, his cousin exists in your workflow, the Time Burglar.  At LaunchWorks, we make certain not to forget about the small, incremental wastes between process steps.  Finding the large, systemic gaps and “low-hanging-fruit” is mandatory, but “seeing” the Time Burglar is more difficult.  We’ve made the process of closing the small gaps fun by incentivizing continuous small efforts, praising the identification of hard to find gaps and demonstrating how we all benefit.  The Time Burglars are often hiding in inconspicuous areas. Have you ever tried calling your own main phone number throughout the year?  You might find more than one there and uncover how to reduce the ordering time for your customers or increase response for service calls.  Do your supervisors or managers practice following the entire workflow from Dock to Stock, PO to Order Entry?  The Burglars hide in areas that we often don’t manage well; the in-betweens and the invisible workflows like your phone system or paper trail from step to step.  Find a few, add up the time savings with an appropriate countermeasure and soon your staff will begin seeing the invisible wastes more clearly.


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