8 Steps for Manufacturers to Launch a Lean Journey

Executive Overview

As longtime lean-thinking enthusiasts, we can tell you that “lean” is not a process. Lean is a way of thinking and extends to a company’s way of being, ideally permeating the culture.

The lean thinker focuses on two questions:

  1. Where can we maximize customer value?
  2. Where can we minimize waste?

The purpose of lean manufacturing is not to save time and money, but rather to spend it in areas where customers will value it most. Our lean thinking has us focused on watching the customer journey across the organization, rather than the more traditional “departmental” view of improvement. In fact, we believe that in order to be successful, lean thinking companies must embrace lean thinking across the organization:

  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Procurement
  • Production
  • Shipping
  • Support

Every interaction either improves or degrades our reputation in the eyes of our customers. Every action we take either contributes to the value stream or is considered ‘waste.’

Welcome to the lean journey! We hope you enjoy the ride…


Step 1. Embrace Lean Thinking

There’s no better resource than the Lean Enterprise Institute, which can be found at lean.org.

In fact, many of the steps in this lean starter guide came from the LEI website, conferences, and the lean thought leaders who we have met along the way.

LEI’s mission is to:

Make things better through lean thinking and practice.

Once confined exclusively to the manufacturing industry, lean thinking has since been embraced by health care, non-profits, education, professional service firms – and even governmental entities. Lean evangelists have been known to even apply lean to their families and personal life!

Get involved in the lean community. You’ll be hooked!

Action Step

What resources will you use to educate yourself and your team about the power of Lean thinking?

MCA Connect Resources:

Whitepaper: Benefits of a Lean Transformation

Webinar: Learning Lean Manufacturing Using Legos®


Step 2: Align Your Lean Organization

Lean is more than tools and takt time. It’s a mindset. For lean to be successful, lean principles must permeate throughout the company culture. The lean leaders you select should have time to devote to the project, be passionate about the company, and willing to embrace change.

For lean thinking to be embraced, you need:

  • Experienced lean leadership
  • A commitment to lean alignment
  • Training for staff
  • Flexible lean ERP software
  • Often, external consultants

Action Step

Hire a consultant to conduct a Lean Readiness Assessment. Find out what areas you need to improve to be successful with your Lean Journey.

MCA Connect Resources:

Service: Lean Manufacturing Readiness Assessment


Step 3: Pick a Focus Area

Choose one product or service that you want to use to start your lean journey. Ideally, you’ll want to pick an area where you can get a ‘quick win’, building success as you familiarize yourself and your team with the power of Lean.

Action Step

Decide where to begin!

MCA Connect Resources:

Article: Starting Your Lean Manufacturing Journey


Step 4: Understand the Value

The first principle of Lean Thinking is to understand your Value to customers. Choosing the focus area you picked in Step 3, start thinking about value.

  • Why does your business exist?
  • What value do your customers place upon this product or service?
  • How much are customers willing to pay?
  • Would customers pay more for additional products, features or services?
  • How can you increase your value?

The lean journey is intended to enhance what customers value within your organization and optimize your pricing to align with what they are willing to pay. You’ll need to take into consideration the cost for each unit you produce. Your goal is to eliminate as much waste and cost as you can, so you can meet the customer’s price at a good profit.

Action Step

Decide how you will gather the data so you can quantify the value of the product or service selected.

MCA Connect Resources:

Whitepaper: 9 Ways to Squeeze Revenue and Sweeten Profits


Step 5: Document the Current Value Stream

With Lean’s stated goal for continual improvement, you must document the procedures you have in place today and understand component costs.

The Value Stream encompasses the entire product journey, from procuring raw materials, through production, delivery, customer use, post-purchase support and services, all the way until when the product is disposed at its end-of-life.

For each step of the process, you’ll have to decide whether the work is:

  • Value-Creating Work: Essential to the process.
  • Incidental Work: Must be done, but doesn’t add value to the customer (like cleaning or changing paint colors in an assembly line).
  • Waste: Motions that do not create value, and could be eliminated.

Action Step

Document the value stream. Assign a work type to each step of the process.

MCA Connect Resources:

Video: Improve Your Bottom Line with Value Stream Mapping


Step 6: Evaluate Flow

Where do you have time gaps in the value chain process? Flow is key to eliminating waste. In perfect flow, a product moves continuously across the value stream, from procurement to raw inventory to assembly to shipping, etc.

This is where you:

  • Conduct time studies
  • Develop the “perfect flow”

One of the differentiators in Lean Thinking is that rather than “pushing” product through the factory based on forecasting and scheduling, in Lean, product is “pulled” just in time as it is needed. Nothing is made until the customer orders it.

To achieve continuous Flow using a Pull strategy, you must have very short cycle times, and there must be an automated mechanism to relay what’s next in the value chain production line. When continuous Flow is not possible, you may want to use Supermarkets to control production (building some components in advance).

Action Step

Time each step of the value stream.

Decide how you will trigger “next steps” or kanban automatically.

MCA Connect Resources:

Article: Do your Materials Move by Magic?


Step 7: Develop the Ideal Value Stream

Once you understand how your processes are working today, you want to create your Future Value Stream Map, which will help you produce product to takt time.

Takt time is the rate at which customers order your products. The goal is to avoid overproduction (or underproduction) so you can maximize revenue, while minimizing inventory carrying costs and risks. You’ll look for opportunities to reduce any processes that force batch production work.

Action Step

Create a number of “what if?” scenarios to determine which path is ideal for process improvement.

MCA Connect Resources:

Video: Improve Your Bottom Line with Value Stream Mapping

Software / Service: LeanCONNECT Planning


Step 8: Implement!

After all this planning, it’s time to put your Lean Planning into action. If you need help with any stage of your Lean Journey, please feel free to give us a call. We can help guide you in the areas of:

  • Learning lean principles
  • Embracing lean leadership
  • Aligning people and processes
  • Assessing lean manufacturing readiness
  • Implementing Lean ERP software

About MCA Connect

MCA Connect is a Global Systems Integrator and Microsoft Dynamics Gold Partner (ERP, CRM & Cloud) that delivers and supports operational transformation to help customers achieve a competitive advantage. By combining product and industry expertise with proven strategic alignment methods, MCA Connect consistently delivers innovative solutions that help clients realize their vision. Founded in 2002, MCA Connect has grown into one of the largest US-based Microsoft partners with offices throughout the United States.

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