A Safe Path to Lean
While attending the AME international conference, held in Cincinnati last October, I introduced myself to a lean thought leader and briefly described a book I had written that suggests to get lean you should start with safety. His comment back was that for most companies that is exactly where they should begin. I failed to ask a follow up question to fully understand his reasoning for supporting my contention but I know why I recommended it in book form -- because it works.
All lean leaders understand the path to real lean, lean that is lasting, is dependent on employee engagement. Resistance to lean that is predicated on cost savings has killed off many a lean effort. Because we work in adult workplaces the simple equation that cost savings = fewer employees is understood by everyone. To discourage this thinking a senior leader may state that no lay-offs will occur as a result of lean but this is not the norm. He could instead take the safe path to lean by asking his employees to focus on safety improvement and thus bypass the initial resistance to lean caused by mistrust and a lack of understanding.
Simply by facilitating safety improvement activities while using a lean tool like the kaizen blitz you can begin to train your employee base in the lean language and many of the lean tools. A team of employees given the gift of time to focus on safety will not only reduce injury risks but they will most certainly reduce the cycle time of the process they have observed. This safe path to lean can initiate a journey toward real lean for any business for it is build upon respect for people first and then cycle time reduction.