The theme of a previous Lean Tip (See : "Implementing Lean on a leaner budget," MEAT&POULTRY, April 2007 issue, page 88) was that many food processors can not afford the traditional approach to deploying a process improvement initiative.

"Traditional" implies contracting with a consulting firm that assesses processes, trains everyone on Lean principles and then organizes and implements weeklong process improvement sessions.

Large businesses often implement Lean/six-sigma in this way with great fanfare and promising huge rewards. This rather typical approach has high cost and questionable ROI. Usually months go by before everyone is trained and out in their work areas attempting implementation.

It is ironic that big expense is linked to traditional Lean deployment because the fundamental principles of Lean are the opposite of making large expenditures for rewards that may come in the future. Lean thinking encourages an enterprise to strive for little changes, often with little expense, for small but daily reduction of costs. Moreover, most Lean thinkers believe that the workers, foremen and managers who work in plants and offices are the ones who have the best ideas for cutting costs. Getting them involved early helps reduce deployment cost and increases the potential for sustaining your lean initiative after the consultants are gone.

There is a leaner approach to deploy Lean principles in a meat and poultry processing enterprise. This leaner deployment must follow the principles of Lean not only in words but in deeds. A leaner approach can have quick, if not immediate, return on investment. More importantly once Lean is adopted and gains traction, it is sustainable across all departments and sections of an enterprise.

After leaner Lean is in place, it just keeps on cutting costs and producing more quality product for less. The key is to set up a system that taps the savvy of managers and workers to reduce costs. Moreover, this system has to start small in order for small but important results can be seen by workers and management, and seen quickly.

Developing leaner Lean strategy

So, how is a leaner Lean strategy deployed? Start with one consultant with one foreman attached to his hip. The consultant can help reduce cost while coaching the foreman on the basic principles of Lean. Leaner Lean deployment requires that the foreman is learning to see waste with new eyes. The foreman is also learning to prioritize, gain input from workers and run a "shop floor" kaizen. Learning takes time, practice, trial and error. However, in two or three days at least one foreman and some workers are keenly aware of waste and working to correct the root causes for the waste.

The foreman’s behavioral change from immediate correction or "fire fighting" to the more substantive "root-cause" correction is significant. For example, instead of quickly cleaning the labeler, adjusting and restarting the line, a rootcause approach would also include establishing standard work practice for cleaning and maintaining the labeler before it malfunctions.

Many Lean clients insist they do have standard work practices for cleaning and maintaining the label machines. Lean thinking requires a second look and most probably some changes. During "root-cause" analysis, ask questions similar to these: Where are the cleaning materials? For the start-up run, how is the efficiency of the labeler checked? Is there routine, on-the-go cleaning? Are there standard distance and pressure settings for the label equipment? Obviously, fixing something once is not the same as setting up standard work practices that reduce downtime and jams.

In a leaner deployment approach, be sure the foreman is running short shop-floor meetings to clarify the "root cause" of a problem, generating solutions and determining expected results. These short shop-floor meetings support the notion that processes can be changed. Furthermore, changes must be measured to ensure they actually improve output, reduce rework and lower costs.

It is important that the foreman is running the shop-floor meetings. The consultant should help, but eventually the foreman should be able to take charge. This approach then can transfer to another foreman and then another.

Once small changes are the norm on the production lines, the deployment leaders can schedule longer and more tactical problem-solving sessions. To increase accountability, tactical kaizen sessions should be done within a department. An example would be maintenance problem solving downtime for one specific machine or piece of equipment. To gain traction, it is important for people to generate solutions for themselves to implement. Tactical kaizens should be planned well ahead of a kaizen session. Data needs to be collected, the problem defined and the participants selected and scheduled. Write up the problem statement and some basic objectives. The write-up helps clarify the problem and ensure that data and barriers are considered prior to the problem-solving session. I recommend that every department start with a problem-solving session that addresses a problem from their perspective and with their ownership.

Within a month or two, the culture should become accustomed to Lean problem solving and Lean thinking to organize and implement strategic problem-solving events that cut across departmental boundaries. These events usually take some time, but the return is often more significant than the shop floor and tactical sessions.

Dr. Glen Miller is Senior Lean Consultant for Performance Essentials, Inc. More information can be obtained regarding Lean Manufacturing at