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As Manufacturing Growth Director, Steve helps businesses to compete, innovate and grow providing advice and support on new product development, intellectual property protection and production process optimisation. His broad career includes MD of £75M multi-site, European medium volume manufacturing company, Director of global sourcing in a $12B US corporation, MD of an off-shore engineering company in India and design and engineering leadership in sectors spanning aircraft to lawn-mowers. He has a PhD and MSc in Aerospace Vehicle Design, Cranfield, BSc Aircraft Engineering, Salford and is a Six Sigma Green Belt.

We all know that Lean is nothing without employee engagement and we all know what a challenge achieving engaged employees can be (incidentally, I found my colleague Garry Platt’s article on the The Why, the When & the What of Change very informative and helpful in that regard).  One of the ways that we, as managers, can often fail with our teams is that we forget to engage ourselves with the people that we expect to engage with us and that could mean we miss something that makes a real difference to our Lean implementation.

The eighth waste

The 7 “classic” wastes in most companies are: over-processing, over-production, defects, motion, transportation, waiting and inventory. But there is an additional and often overlooked waste – the skills, experience and knowledge of the human resources that we have constantly at our disposal.  If we fail to use our teams’ mental, creative and physical skills and abilities then we’re wasting the resource that we’re attempting to improve.

Skill waste is often routed in a number of different business factors.  Perhaps there is no culture of employee engagement, perhaps there has been little in the way of investments in training over the years, or maybe staff morale is low.  Maybe, there’s simply no way of enabling employees to voice their opinions, ideas and suggestions.

The truth is that skill waste is often overlooked but is potentially one of the simplest problems to solve.  An employee comments or suggestions box in a communal area supported by a relevant process (to avoid the “we want a new toaster” type of comments) or a monthly forum where the changes that you have implemented are discussed and worked through could be enough to unlock the improvement that you never realised was required.

The sixth ‘S’

The 5S principle of “Sort”, “Stabilise”, “Shine”, “Standardise” and “Sustain” is well known to Lean practitioners.  It’s a simple system that allows us to improve our organisation and create standardised working practices.  5S allows us to create a work environment that supports safe working practices, right first time quality and efficient, productive working.

But there is a 6th S and it’s one that we don’t often consider.  “Search” the ongoing, open, safe and honest questioning of why we do one thing a certain way and never ever being afraid to ask “Why?” when it comes to any working practice.  Just because we’ve always done something, doesn’t mean that we can’t do it better and we can apply the 5S process to every task and (importantly) change and improvement and ask everyone “is there any way that we can make this even better?”

The important thing to recognise about searching out the eighth waste using the sixth ‘S’ is that you can’t do that alone.  If you take the time to ask questions of the people in your organisation and question, audit and improve your processes you will continue to unlock the potential that Lean was designed to reveal.  If you communicate with your staff and engage in dialogue, not monologue, you’ll help to drive engagement, increase morale and find the new, innovative and exciting improvements that spreadsheets and desk research could never have revealed.

EEF’s Lean Training Courses have been specifically designed to help you deliver and maintain a Lean program in your organisation.  The 5S and Visual Management training course can help Lean implementers to create a Lean Improvement program and delivers short, medium and long term results.

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Manufacturing Growth Director

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