As the U.S. economy teeters on the brink of a recession, corporations might have to check their belts and tighten them a bit.
One way to do this is to employ the lean methodology. Originating from the Toyota Production System, the ideology focuses on eliminating waste, unreasonable activities and variation, according to Joe Panebianco, director of the LeanSigma Institute at TBM Consulting Group, a provider of LeanSigma consulting and training services and developer of the e-learning program Essential Lean Learning.
“[When] the founders of the production system at Toyota were looking at how other large car companies were doing it, they realized they didn’t have the money [or] the resources to do it the way the Fords and GMs of the world were doing it back in the 1940s,” Panebianco said. “So they came up with what they called the poor man’s production system. By eliminating all of this waste, unreasonable activities and variation, they could do the same with less.”
From a learning standpoint, getting every employee in a corporation working off this philosophy allows for less waste and greater productivity.
“It really becomes a powerful improvement tool when you look at doing it with the entire company [and] getting everyone to contribute in small ways toward reducing waste in your organization,” Panebianco said. “As a result, it really becomes a tool for helping recession proof your organization, in a way. It’s great to be more productive when times are great, but if you don’t have to tighten your belt because you’re always having a tight belt all year round, you’re less prone to be hit by those economic forces.”
While companies always should operate at the highest level of productivity and efficiency, with the precarious state of today’s economy, it becomes even more essential.
“It’s always important to be productive, but it’s even more important during slow economic times to be productive and efficient,” Panebianco said. “The best way to do that is by having everyone make improvements and eliminate waste.”
When implementing lean learning, corporations need to understand the concept has dual meaning. Not only should the learning be about the lean philosophy, but the learning function also needs to be lean.
“The biggest challenge that comes into [it] is how do you get everyone in your organization to speak the same language and how to get them to learn these principles quickly and efficiently, so that you can start putting them to use,” Panebianco said.
E-learning programs do just that — they can teach lean concepts quickly, allowing companies to start the lean process sooner.
“Within the course of a couple of months, you can teach everyone in the organization the principles,” Panebianco said. “They’ll have seen the same examples, and they’ll be using the same language and words.”
As with any training initiative, using an e-learning platform for lean learning in conjunction with hands-on training provides the best results.
“If you were to break the learning down into two areas, the e-learning platform is excellent for teaching principles, concepts and theories,” Panebianco said. “Application is best taught by hands-on experience.”
A successful lean learning program covers the principles of waste, the types of waste, the changes that are going to be happening in the organization and employees’ roles in that change, Panebianco said. An effective way to do this is through value-stream mapping, a graphical technique used to analyze the transformation of a product from raw material to a finished good.
“The technique of graphing, it allows you to help identify waste in areas and opportunities for improvement,” Panebianco explained. “This is something that most companies that are doing lean transformations do. Part of the training should be to help people understand that value-stream map: why you’re going to do an improvement in a specific area. You can tell that story through an understanding of the value-stream map.”