Fit & Finish: An obsession with Lean

“If you define the problem correctly, you almost have the solution.” – Steve Jobs
Chris Meiorin
March 05, 2019
By Chris Meiorin
Those who know me sometimes say I have an obsessive personality. So at a risk of proving them right, I’m going to return to my latest area of obsession: Lean manufacturing.

The Lean manufacturing process, or simply “Lean,” is defined as the minimising of anything that does not bring value to a process. The best-known way to achieve this state is through a commitment to “continuous improvement.” It’s a very simple goal, yet the process can be monumental. Anyone who has been on this journey knows that CI is an endeavour with a perpetual learning curve. Fortunately, our industry has recently taken notice of this trend and is making available this knowledge via independent learning or, more commonly, via trade associations. As a case in point, lets look at Fenestration Manitoba’s FenCon19 conference and expo. A quick scan of the two-day schedule will make clear their focus on this topic, and in true Lean fashion it removes from the schedule anything that does not bring value to the attendee. For those who follow Lean, it should come as no surprise that Manitoba manufacturers have embraced Lean as a group, unlike anywhere else in the country.

Geographically, Manitoba is well situated to fill this role. It is, for all intents and purposes, pretty much the centre of our vast country and northern neighbours to some of the continent’s largest fenestration manufacturers. Geography aside, the efforts of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters could explain why Manitoba remains a hotbed for this pursuit. Although CME acts as a national association, there is no denying that much of their Lean focus takes place in Manitoba. As a result, I headed back to Winnipeg in March for my third foray into Lean manufacturing learning.

At my early point in this Lean journey one of the key points is the focus on the philosophy and culture of Lean rather than focusing on specific tools and methodologies that a structured Lean certification might provide. Lean certification and can play an important role in the success of a Lean objective, bringing to the table the tools and practical knowledge necessary to execute and manage a Lean plan, but the focus of this column is on the realm of leadership and culture.  

It is widely accepted that the successful implementation of Lean manufacturing requires a strong commitment on the part of senior management. However, the Lean journey is a long one and it is easy as managers to allow our attention to this process to slip. Further to this, the involvement of employees in ongoing and daily improvements is also critical to the success of a Lean business plan. That’s where the Lean challenge really begins. How do you change a culture? How does a manager impart their vision and goals as a cultural shift to all stakeholders within an organization? This is the part of Lean that a course can teach but requires another level of devotion to implement. Perhaps an obsessive level of devotion.

This brings me back to my opening. Once the Lean journey begins, its success depends on the engagement of others. A sustained cultural shift. In order for Lean to succeed within an organization, it must be viewed as a philosophy – a journey – and it must consist of the right combination of long-term initiatives, processes, people and problem-solving in order for it to succeed. With the resources now available to us to make this happen, we as a collective group stand a better chance to remain an important and viable industry on the ever- increasing competitiveness of a global market.

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