In the A model programme article from the April issue of LMJ, Mr Parthasarathy describes the typical start of a lean manufacturing implementation process very well. According to the article, this launch process includes issues, methods and achievements. For example, resistance from management and from the organisation is one of the main issue described: however, since top management was the driver, initial positive effects were quickly achieved.

According to my experience, all successful lean implementations begin with an organisation’s top management.

Trying to implement lean from the bottom-up may result in some improvements, but it will not result in your organisation achieving sustainable improvement and global competitiveness. This is the basis of creating a continuous improvement culture, which builds a lean foundation of expectations and behaviours that make the lean implementation work.

We understand that the strategic focus in this automotive supplier was on safety, quality and operator comfort (well done!) and that the way to identify waste was by using a model line.

The strategic focus of this company is connected to muri, mura and muda, a very important basis for seeing and eliminating waste, but one that is not very well understood by practitioners.

Let me describe these three types of waste first, and their interactions:

Muri, overburden, can result from mura. When operators or machines are utilised more than 100% to finish their task, they are overburdened. This means breakdowns when it comes to machines and absenteeism when it comes to employees. To prevent overworked employees, safety should be the focus of all process designs and all standard work initiatives;

Mura, unevenness, can be found in fluctuation in customer demand, process times per product or variation of cycle times for different operators. When mura is not reduced, one increases the possibility for muri and therefore muda. Mura can be reduced by creating openness in the supply chain, change product design and create standard work for all operators;

Muda, waste, can be identified and removed using a number of tools, including poka-yoke, kanbans, takt time, SMED and one-piece flow.

I fully agree with Mr Parthasarathy with regards to the strategic focus: Safety (Muri) => Quality (Mura) => Operator comfort. However, it is good to note that the safety and operator comfort come at the same level of priority (muri), the quality improvement will come from the problem resolution process and the variability reduction (mura) will impact safety improvements, too.

In my experience, the three Ms are influenced by each other and need to be tackled in this sequence (muri, mura and muda) to achieve success, engagement and buy-in from our colleagues on the shop floor.

Most organisations only focus on eliminating muda because this can be found by simply using a number of tools, but also by observing closely. Not putting any effort in the other two types of waste, however, may lead to problems in the long run.

The result usually includes overburdened employees and machines (muri) because customer demand is uneven (mura).

When either employees or machine cycle times are fully optimised, without any slack time, the smallest variation in customer demand can lead to several problems: you may find yourself with both overburdened people and overburdened machines.

Rane (Madras) Limited began the implementation of lean using a model line, which is a proven method to initiate such an initiative. We use it widely in our factories in the Volvo Group.

The model, typically one specific “line” or value stream within a single facility or operation, provides a small, focused and controlled playground for implementing lean.

The pilot represents a low risk venue within which lean leaders can experiment, learn and (hopefully) successfully build a much leaner line or value stream. The effort also provides valuable opportunities for showcasing what lean looks and feels like, an important element in the change management process.

Pilot lessons learned encompass the technical aspects of lean implementation from a tools, systems and deployment perspective, while providing critical insight into the necessary cultural and human resource requirements.

The foundation of the model line must be built on lean leader alignment and effective change management as well as a rigorously developed value stream improvement plan. Of course, prudent pilot selection is absolutely essential. Selection criteria must include the potential impact of the pilot, strength of pilot leadership and degree of difficulty (technical and cultural) of the implementation.

In summary, this article brings good learning points:

  • Lean production has to be simple and pragmatic: the fundamental requirement of lean is to identify wasted resources with the support of management, but using the 3M process and tackling, in sequence, muri, mura and muda;
  • The use of the model line as a method to achieve improvement. Typically, the Volvo factories deploying the same method analyse the model line to understand the current state, the current flow of product and information through the system (current state map). They then develop a future state vision of what the flow should look like at the end, along with the current performance measures and future targets. Though there is some action up front to stabilise the process, the primary focus is on creating continuous flow leading to a pull system;
  • What is kaizen? For us at the Volvo Group a kaizen is described as “many small, medium and big improvements that come from the common sense and experience of the people who do the work.” The big challenge is to make it consistent and connected to the group strategic objectives.

Whatever lean tools you are using, the most important thing to remember is to use them pragmatically to reduce waste with the top management driving the improvement process both strategically and operationally in order to sustain business results.

Maybe Rane’s next step should be to consider the end-toend focus to make product development, suppliers and service organisation part of its lean transformation.