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Fit & Finish: Black Eye, Green Belt – It’s worth taking some lumps to implement Lean

Hard knocks can deliver the same lessons as a Lean seminar.


July 3, 2019
By Chris Meiorin

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I didn’t ever get a black eye that I didn’t learn something from. It might have been because I let my guard down. I may not have been in the exact spot I needed to be in. I was distracted, or perhaps I just plain drifted into a bad situation without noticing. Either way, I probably learned more what not to do from getting a black eye, than I did how to do things right.

I would like to think we have all had a black eye of some sort. It may have been a business idea gone wrong. Perhaps not well thought out. A career change for the worse. A project that took on a life of its own. Overpromised. Underdelivered. Either way, you probably took something away from it. Like, how to avoid getting a black eye, or even how you might learn to enjoy it. The point is, how you got the black eye and the lesson learned is strong. In combative sport, a black belt teaches you how to avoid a black eye, however, it’s likely you caught a couple on the way there. A Lean Six Sigma Black Belt in the business arena – that can be a real business game changer.

While Lean has a focus on eliminating waste from a process, Six Sigma focuses on removing or minimizing variability in manufacturing and dramatically reducing defective deliverables. Lean Six Sigma organizes Lean and Six Sigma to cut production costs, improve quality, speed up, stay competitive and save money. In short, Lean Six Sigma creates a well-balanced and organized solution to save money and produce better parts consistently.

Lean originated in the Toyota Production System. Although Lean and TPS are very similar in their intended goals, TPS mandates an emphasis on the working team. TPS, like Lean, focuses on minimizing waste, yet TPS emphasizes one waste in particular: waste of underutilized workers. Taiichi Ohno, creator of the TPS, is credited with improving the overall quality of the both the product it manufactures and the environment in which it is manufactured with close linking of management and the shopfloor. “Gemba walks” are an opportunity for staff, both from the office and shopfloor, to remove themselves from their day-to-day tasks to walk the floor of their workplace and identify wasteful activities. When combined with “Kaizen” (improvement), the Gemba Walk is an opportunity to not only improve the overall product and process but to also build a team environment that puts as much emphasis on the shopfloor operator as is does on the CEO.

Lean, Six Sigma and TPS aside, I’ve seen classic examples of these philosophies by companies and owners who have never even heard of any of these labels. Recently, I was given the opportunity to tour a manufacturing facility where the principals of Lean, Six Sigma and TPS were in textbook form. It was a beautiful thing to see. The floors were clean, the production flow smooth and the team on the floor fully engaged. Contrast that to another shop tour where the floors were every bit as clean, the production as smooth and the workers all equally engaged. I asked the owner of this facility what facet of Lean he most related to and his reply was “what the fuck is Lean?”, proving that a Lean Black Belt, Green Belt or even a Yellow Belt isn’t necessary for success on the shopfloor. It’s the commitment to continous improvement, in any form, that makes the difference.

I’ve been immersed in Lean for over a year now, yet feel as if I have only scratched the surface. Interestingly enough, this is the mentality of all true practitioners of Lean, even those with years of practice and the highest level of certification. It’s a journey without an end making the beginning paramount. So, get a black eye. Get a few black eyes. Get a Lean belt. Take a course. Walk the floor. Continuously improve – both in the ring and in your business.