Tips for Continuous Improvement Strategies in Lean Manufacturing

shutterstock_1208863051Manufacturers continually invest time, money and other resources into research and development. They are also working innovators ready to introduce or embrace new technologies and other developments that support their goal of improving productivity and saving on costs.

This is where lean manufacturing comes in – where streamlining processes for greater efficiency is a consistent goal. By their very nature, lean organisations practise continuous improvement – that way of looking at methods and processes and finding ways to refine or improve them. Continuous improvement not only offers efficiency gains but also eliminates waste and even possible cost reductions – outcomes that are desirable in lean manufacturing.

Benefits of Lean Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing benefits both the manufacturer and the consumer, so the advantages it offers are manifold.

For the manufacturer, lean manufacturing results in:

  • Better products: Process efficiency gives employees freedom to innovate or work on higher-level mental tasks that benefit the company. Resources will also be better invested in innovation projects and quality control.
  • Improvement in lead times: Streamlining manufacturing processes allows businesses to better manage market fluctuations in demand resulting in improved lead times.
  • Better inventory turns: When there is less pending work and inventory, you also have less capital tied up.
  • Waste reduction: The reduction or elimination of waste is a key benefit from lean manufacturing processes. This, in turn, ensures the sustainability of a business, as it thrives on utilising less resources whilst maintaining or even improving its production capacity.
  • More profits: Enhanced productivity combined with waste reduction and high-quality products ultimately mean more profits.
  • Job satisfaction and employee retention: Lean manufacturing practices eliminate boring, unnecessary steps and turn employees into stakeholders. This meaningful shift helps enhance productivity, job satisfaction and retention rates.

Consumers benefit from lean manufacturing by having access to safer, high-quality product options, as well as better, more efficient customer service. Lean manufacturers also help their customers by having a steady inventory and a reduction in the number of faulty or defective products that need to be returned.

Creating a continuous improvement mind-set

shutterstock_782845411-4Let’s say the general concept of lean manufacturing is generally appreciated within your organisation – what are you doing to create a continuous improvement mind-set?

For continuous improvement efforts to succeed, you need your entire team to trust in and be committed to the process. They should also know and understand their role in it.

Any significant change needs to be driven by your organisational culture – and cultural shifts could be painful. Therefore, expect some resistance, especially from people who have been with the company for a long time and are pretty set in their ways.

But there are ways around this.

Below are some tips on how you can create and cultivate a continuous improvement mind-set in your organisation:

1. Talk about your vision in detail.

Make sure you communicate your goals to everyone in your organisation and continuous improvement figures. Share your vision and help your employees see, understand and relate to it.

Consistently talk about your objectives in your messages and be prepared to answer the following:

  • What are you trying to accomplish with continuous improvement?
  • Why are changes being done? Are they necessary?
  • How will your employees, your company and your customers benefit from lean manufacturing?
  • How will the changes be implemented?
  • How much time is needed to see improvements?

2. Round up early adopters.

shutterstock_517353616Know your allies beforehand and round them up to assist you in finding other advocates in your organisation. The earlier you rally the troops, the more effectively you can campaign for the adoption of leaner practices.

Your advocates may be at the top (which is great), but it also helps to have early adopters at every level of your organisation. This way, you can depend on them to help others realise how the changes you propose will result in greater efficiencies for everyone. They can also share their own stories regarding their experience with continuous improvement and going lean.

3. Manage your expectations.

Keep things realistic and to scale. It may actually be better to start small. Trying to adopt an entirely new system can lead to confusion and resistance. Instead, keep your initial lean process improvement steps easy and simple.

When everyone sees the beneficial results, even those who were resistant in the beginning could turn into change advocates. More people in your organisation will also be ready to embrace further changes. 

4. Share and celebrate successes.

Document and keep track of your organisation’s experience with lean process improvements, no matter how big or small. Share the results with each team and acknowledge both individual and group contributions.

Doing these things will work wonders in convincing those on the fence about change being good. Others will also feel motivated to contribute to your drive for a lean manufacturing process – whether it involves adopting a new technique or technology.

Innovating with technology

shutterstock_1891351438An important ingredient of lean manufacturing is the adoption of technology that’s meant to make processes safer, more efficient and less wasteful. You can make it easier to introduce new technology for the improvement of existing processes by:

  • Identifying new technology that can help solve problems in your operations
  • Bringing together an implementation team to introduce and discuss the new technology
  • Testing the technology in a pilot program to work out kinks and gain supporters
  • Training staff or workers in using the new technology
  • Launching the new technology for full-scale use in your business 

Stay the course and go lean

Martin Thomas, European Marketing Manager at Radwell International Ltd explains more. “As you traverse the route to lean manufacturing, remember to be patient. It doesn’t matter if you are trying a new strategy, technique, material or technology. Change can take time. But if you implement the tips shared here, you’ll be on your way to becoming lean.”


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