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The Lean Manufacturing Assessment - A Brief Overview

Aug 17, 2007
First off, even a Lean Assessment should be a Value-Adding experience for your company. It's not enough for a couple of consultants to drop-in, take a look around, and then send you a report that tells you what they observed and what to do.

Most of the time you'll pay for a Lean Assessment, (though probably at a reduced rate,) so you should still expect some tangible return on your investment beyond a report. Your assessors will be looking for waste. When and where they find waste, in its many forms, and how to eliminate it should be an expected deliverable.

The following is a very brief overview of some things you should look for when hiring a consultant to assess the opportunities for Lean at your company. This also applies to the progress you have made so far if assessing for benchmarking purposes.

This is NOT an exhaustive list by any means, but it is a good start.

Although a good assessor should make the process flex to the specifics of each company, I have outlined some of the common items you should expect during and after a typical 1 - 5 day assessment.

The Lean Assessor Should Do the Following (at minimum):
1. Meet with you by phone or in person to discuss some of the specific information you wish to collect during the assessment process. Although the consultant will have his or her own approach and measurement systems, there may be data important to you that are not generally gathered. You'll get far greater benefit by mentioning your specific metrics up-front.

(At Each Plant Being Assessed)
2. Speak with a senior management team member regarding the assessment process by phone and arrange for a "process expert(s)" to guide them throughout your company during the visit. It is wise for you to mention the visit to the management team, express your support for the process, and ask that they be as helpful as possible.

3.Once on site they should hold a brief introductory meeting with at least one member of the senior management team to discuss the process, resources needed, and assure them that they will do all in their power to be helpful etc. This is also a great time for your consultant to ask senior managers where they believe the greatest needs for improvement are. Most seasoned managers probably already know where most of the opportunities lie and can be very helpful to the consultant and get him to better understand their concerns. This is true even if opportunities that are more significant are found elsewhere during the assessment process.

*Side Note: Consultants aren't trying to trick you into giving them information that they should be able to find on their own. They value your experience and insider expertise and use it to ensure maximum value is added to the process. Forget the cliches about consultants; few would be in business today if they were true.

4. Walk the process. Most consultants like to start with what is generally "the beginning" of the process (as far as the plant is concerned,) which is Sales/Order Taking. A brief overview of how that process is conducted will naturally lead them to Planning, Engineering, Scheduling, etc. In each department, they will seek out a "resident expert" or two, and pick their brains regarding their processes in general terms. Before long, they will find their way to the shop floor where value-adding activities and Lean opportunities should abound. Occasionally assessors will begin their analysis at the "back door" or shipping dock where internal processes end. This is a method used to help assessors get closer to "external customers" and try to see your system from their perspective. Both approaches seem to work equally well.

5. Once on the shop floor (with your resident expert,) they will begin "walking the floor" from wherever the starting point is, sequentially throughout the entire production system (Value Stream.)

a. As each functional area is visited they will observe and ask questions related to their processes and seek out examples of how they apply appropriate Lean tools and skills within their areas. Implementation of 5S, SMED, Maintenance (TPM), Standardized Work Instructions, Visual Controls, KanBans, WIP Levels, Product Flow, Materials Replenishment, Ergonomics Concerns, Potential Safety Risks, Teamwork, Cultural Issues, Workspace Utilization, as well as quite a large number of other factors are evaluated.

b. After this initial "value-adding" assessment has been conducted, your assessor will generally visit areas such as stockrooms, a connected warehouse, shipping & receiving, scout around for inventory in all its' forms, find the company "junk pile" (if there is one,) and etc. Like the shop floor assessment process, many questions will be asked and observations are noted.

c. Very often at this point in the process your assessor might dismiss your "resident expert" tour guide, and begin the process over again, either from the beginning, or by going to critical areas that have potential for profoundly positive, or even far-reaching negative, impact on the rest of the processes or company. They will spend a fair amount of time discussing area issues with operators and shop floor level supervisors to get the closest view possible to the where and how the actual work is performed. This "up close and personal" examination is a critical step to finding the "Bang for the Buck" Lean opportunities.

d. Nearing completion, time is beginning to run short on a 2 day assessment (which is a common length for an assessment,) so your assessor will generally begin looking much more closely at the areas/issues that, if addressed, would have the greatest positive (even immediate bottom-line impact,) and generate the largest overall gain.

6. On the final day of assessment, most assessors will once again meet with one or more members of senior management to ask questions and get some clarifications on some of their observations. Very often they will discuss many of their observations and suggest some improvements that could be implemented very quickly to alleviate certain problems, or simply reduce wastes with little or no investment. If this feedback is accepted and action is taken quickly, the gains realized will pay for the assessment visit many times over. Sometimes incredible improvements are made before the assessor even finishes his process. Good assessors expect to leave this type of value with their clients even if it is "only an assessment."

7. Upon conclusion of the assessment, the assessor will begin compiling the results of his or her observations. They will generally compose a categorical bulleted list type of report describing the status of items like: SMED Implementation, Workplace Organization 5S, (all applicable Lean Tools,) and their level of proficiency, acceptance, and implementation etc. This is followed by recommendations regarding the "tools" of Lean, and where further attention is warranted and in what sequence.

8. The Lean Assessment is closed-out by identifying opportunities for improvement and suggesting a sequence and process to addressing them in order to achieve maximum results, in the shortest amount of time, while consuming the least amount of resources possible. This document is emailed (or mailed) to all parties you have indicated to receive it. Of course, there should be follow-up with emails and phone calls for clarification and planning purposes, even if you choose not to use the training and implementation assistance of your assessor in your Lean Improvement efforts.

It should also be noted that two heads are always better than one when it comes to conducting assessments (and most anything else for that matter.) Obviously, that doubles the cost, but it has been my experience that it at least triples the ROI. It still takes the same number of days per assessment as it is not "divide and conquer" for the most part, but the assessors will stick together to feed off each other's insights and ideas.

In very large companies, perhaps several consultants/assessors are warranted and they will certainly divide the assessment process among the team. That's fine, but don't let them "move-in" on you. I often hear stories of large consulting firms bringing a team of 20 - 30 consultants in for several weeks of "analysis" before any improvements begin to happen at all. In Lean we call that "WASTE" and "analysis paralysis," and though some call it thorough, we call it excessive except in the rarest cases (which we have yet to see.)

Of course there is much more that could be said on this subject but I hope this gives you some sense of what to expect when you decide to engage in the Lean Assessment process. Having an assessment completed by a reputable firm is a critical step to maximizing the benefits realized in your Lean transformation process. If you are already well into Lean improvements you should consider at least annual assessments of your facilities from outside Lean experts with "fresh eyes." Again, a value-adding assessment will pay for itself many times over.
About the Author
Bill Hanover is CCO of TPS - ThroughPut Solutions and specializes in helping companies eliminate waste from their processes. He is also the author of
No Sucking-Up!
How to Win the Job Promotions You Deserve.
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