Is your company actively involved in developing and implementing lean manufacturing principles and practices on the shop floor? Are buzzwords like The Toyota Production System, kanban, visual controls, pull production and JIT (just in time) often heard in the break area or around the water cooler? Has your safety organization been exempt from this new method of doing business because it is a “manufacturing improvement”?

Well, it’s time to wake up and begin deriving the benefits of lean. Lean principles can help your entire company, not just the shop floor. You should think of your safety organization as a company that provides products, and you should strive to provide those products defect-free, for the lowest cost, in the shortest time possible. To implement improvements, there are seven necessary steps you should follow along this lean journey to continuously improve your company’s bottom line:

1) Identify your products.
The first major step is to identify the products for your organization. A product is something that you can put your hands on and touch. Some of these products may include safety-related items such as:

  • Policies
  • Procedures
  • Processes
  • Inspections
  • Approvals
  • Courses, teaching and other education-related products
  • Consultations

2) Identify your highest leverage product.
The next step is to identify the importance of the various products your organization provides for your company, and how much of your time is spent on these products. Hopefully, you have been able to determine that 100 percent of your organization’s time actually produces products. However, this may not be true.

3) Select one product for improvement.
You need to select the product whose improvement will provide the greatest leverage and improvement for the company, not just your safety organization. It may not be the product you spend the most time on, however it should be the most important.

An example may be that your organization only spends ten percent of its time reviewing and approving product designs. However, getting these done efficiently, accurately and on time to support the product lifecycle is extremely important to your company as a whole. Maybe this is the high leverage product with which you should start.

4) Map the selected product’s process.
Now that you have identified the most important product for your organization, you want to clearly identify the processes that product goes through in your organization. What comes in to start the process and what is delivered to your customer at the end of the process?

You will start at the end of the process and work back through the process you are mapping (visually illustrating) and identify what happens in your organization as that material flows through your organization and becomes a finished product. Note the various steps where the product changes and also where the product is sitting waiting for someone to do the next step.

It is sometimes fun to imagine you are the product going through the process. The following scenario may apply to something as simple as a request from your internal customer to approve product design or construction drawings.

  • I am placed in Sherry’s (the manager’s) inbox, by someone from engineering.
  • Sherry reviews me and decides Bob will be assigned to work on me.
  • I am sent to the office administrator’s inbox.
  • I wait until the office administrator enters my data into the computing system.
  • I am sent to Bob’s inbox to be worked on without a priority.
  • I sit in Bob’s inbox until he has time to work on me, based on his priorities.
  • I get sent to Sherry’s inbox for review without a priority.
  • I sit in Sherry’s inbox waiting for review.
  • Sherry approves me when she gets to it. I have no priority, and I am sent to the office administrator’s inbox.
  • I wait until the office administrator enters my data into the computing system.
  • The office administrator sends me back to the engineering department.

Once you have identified the individual processes and waiting points, assign some times to those various steps and queues. It is expected that each timeframe (duration) be stated as a range, such as 30-40 minutes, 4-6 hours or 1-3 days.

The above mapping will clearly illustrate that most of the flow time for the organization’s products is spent waiting in queue for the next process to begin. It is not uncommon for the queue time to exceed 75 percent of the overall flow. From a customer’s perspective, this is all time they have to wait to get what they expect from you, their supplier.

5) Select specific areas for improvement.
Stand back and take a look at the illustrated product process map you have created. Are there some obvious extremely long waiting queues or processes that you know could benefit greatly from being improved? Highlight those opportunities on your visual map.

Once those opportunities have been identified, you should proceed through a process to prioritize them. You want to concentrate your efforts on the improvement ideas that will get the biggest return with the least amount of effort. Do not try to work on more improvement areas than you have adequate resources to support.

6) Implement improvements.
Treat each one of your improvement ideas as a project and use good project management methods to get it implemented. This would involve:

  • Clearly identifying the objective and exactly what you want to accomplish;
  • Developing a good plan that lists the individual tasks, assigns a resource to each task, and creates a schedule to implement the improvement;
  • Producing a good design for your improvements that satisfies all of the stakeholders;
  • And successfully implementing your improvement per the approved plan.

7) Measure results and continuously improve.
• Establish and implement a method to measure your improved process so you can see the return for your investment.

• Continue to review the process’s results and adjust the process as required to continue to shorten the product’s flow time.

Starting the journey
When you start this lean journey towards improving your organization’s efficiency, it is important to recognize a few things:

  • It will be difficult and sometimes be met with resistance.
  • It may require a cultural change in your organization — “We have always done it this way. Why change?”
  • Start with something small that you have complete control over.
  • Celebrate and communicate lean successes.
  • It will take time; The Toyota Production System has been in place at Toyota for decades and they are still improving.

Good luck on your improvement journey.