Lean Manufacturing in Uncertain Times

These are uncertain times. The rapid spread of COVID-19 across the globe and it’s economic effects has a lot of us reevaluating how best to manage our companies. A lot of us are having to make hard choices right that directly impact those around us. Do we keep our facilities open? Do we pivot to creating new products like PPE or disinfectants? What’s in the best interest of our teams and how do we keep out teams safe and healthy? These are really difficult questions, and we’ll each have to be answering them in our own way based on what’s in front of us. As lean manufacturers however, we’ve developed skill sets and resources that, I believe, can help us through this time.

First, our commitment to waste reduction. This is an uncertain time. Most of us have no idea what is going to happen to our respective company’s. Six months ago if someone asked what the second quarter of 2020 would look like, none of us would have even imagined any of this. Right now, a lot of us aren’t sure what the next year is going to look like. That’s a little scary. Our commitment to waste reduction has helped us though. 5S, value stream mapping, just-in-time inventory, all of these lean things have significantly helped reduce our bottom lines and operating costs giving us greater flexibility and stability in this time of uncertainty.

But I believe the greatest benefit of that come to a company operating under lean principles is the culture and team that’s created. The removal of waste and lowering of costs is great, but the real value of lean culture is the team. Lean creates a culture of empowered and resourceful employees who are dedicated to continuously improving their team. When things get hard and the stuff is hitting the fan, a dedicated lean team can do amazing things. It’s invaluable. Having a culture that develops those sorts of empowered and resourceful employees is what will get our companies through this time. Lean teams are flexible and are able to adapt more readily to the ever changing situations that we’re finding ourselves in.

So what can we do about all of this? We can be resourceful. We can wash our hands. We can follow the directions of authorities. We can be proactive. We can hold on to our lean principles. We’ll get through this together. Let’s take care of each other. Stay safe.

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