The Trifecta of a Lean Workplace
If you were to have a discussion about the ideal workplace, the conversation wouldn’t be complete without highlighting the role lean manufacturing, quality and safety would play. Some industry executives may even use these words interchangeably. Yet, the reality is they each have a very specific function and ultimately should be combined into an overarching operations strategy for optimum results.
Let’s start with ‘lean’ since it is the most comprehensive initiative of the three and since the words lean manufacturing are buzzwords tossed around the industry like the waste it aims to eliminate. Its entire focus is on improving efficiency and effectiveness by reducing waste. This management practice is implemented by companies looking to dispose of anything that doesn’t add value, which means any activity or manufacturing material that creates inefficiencies. Check out one of our latest blogs on the biggest offenders and the best ways to address them. The reason lean is referred to as a practice is because it is focused on the entire value chain and not just various points in the production process. It extends beyond improving quality to developing a worker-powered culture committed to continuous improvement. Adopting a lean philosophy and culture leads to production, cost, quality and service improvements.
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‘Quality’ can really be viewed as a component of lean in that its management is geared toward addressing one specific area of waste – related to mistakes (more popularly called ‘correction waste’). It happens when a company is dealing with low quality material from a supplier, or issues within the manufacturing process that results in outputs that need to be scrapped, reworked or are deemed defective. Within lean, quality management is laser focused on product and process design and is implemented through various programs like Six Sigma, Jidoka and Kaizen.
For instance, Six Sigma techniques are often used with lean manufacturing initiatives to help eliminate waste attributed to poor quality. Six Sigma equips companies with a set of tools that focus on identifying the root-cause of an issue, helping implement corrective action and providing a statistical analysis that reduces variations in the manufacturing process – all of which contribute to better product quality and performance.
Rounding out the lean manufacturing trifecta for the most ideal work environment is ‘safety’. While it is sometimes referred to as a bolt-on practice, the fact of the matter is that safety is improved when companies integrate it into an overall focus on quality and lean manufacturing, as is the case with lean safety.
Terry L. Mathis, co-author of the book, “STEPS to Safety Culture Excellence,” says lean principles fit well with safety improvements. “Safety and lean can forge an alliance to reduce the greatest of all possible wastes: accidental workplace injuries.”
In an interview with EHS Today, Mathis explains that “once you get past the stereotype of lean manufacturing and consider the concepts of lean from a more generic point of view, they can be applied very well to safety.”
He describes accidental injuries as actual defects in the manufacturing process that can be improved with a focus on the quality of the process – which in turn reduces the defect (i.e. injury) and removes waste.
Research has proven time and again that a safe work environment leads to more productivity, higher employee satisfaction levels and increased confidence in the organization. Connect that with lean manufacturing and quality initiatives and you have a winning combination.