Lean Manufacturing...Where to Start?


Lean Manufacturing...Where to Start?

Based on the BCMC 2016 Educational Session
"Efficiency Essentials from the Lean Toolbox"
Greg Griggs—senior vice president of manufacturing-east with Builders FirstSource—and BJ Louws—president of Louws Truss—both see untapped potential for productivity gains in inefficient plants. They introduced BCMC attendees to a few basic concepts of lean manufacturing: Kanban, Kaizen, 5 S and waste walks. They also made sure attendees left with a very clear picture of the value of good instructions and of the wasted effort in an inefficient workflow.


Do you have a good sense for the value of standardized processes? If not, take a minute to try drawing a pig. Do you think anyone else would come up with the same pig you did? Probably not.

What would happen if you had clear, easy-to-follow, step-by-step and line-by-line instructions that included a picture? In that case, it’d be pretty easy for everyone to draw similar pigs.

As Griggs and Louws explained, standardization is a big part of lean manufacturing. When you know results can be repeated, you can better predict future work. When you have clear procedures, it’s easy to train new employees. When you do the same thing the same way every time, it’s easy to see what steps are most important—and which steps you can skip without sacrificing quality. That means more time for the tasks that really count.

“If we create a system that’s falling apart,” Louws explained, “we look back. It’s probably the system and not the guys.” A good system—a standard process that truly is easy to follow—is as much a culture change as it is a set of directions. “This is really about empowering your people, too,” Louws added. When leadership teams step back and let employees take the lead in developing efficient systems that really work, employees are fully on board.

Griggs agrees: efficient processes and well-planned steps are good for production and morale, creating a positive feedback loop. “It’s all about keeping your production crews producing,” Griggs said. “When you involve the people on the floor and really make them feel like they’re a part of something, they’re the ones who are going to take things to the next level.”


There are easy ways to identify and eliminate inefficiencies in your production process. Griggs is a proponent of the waste walk—simply following a process from beginning to end and taking notes on every step that could be improved. “It’s a good tool, it’s simple, and you can do it in a matter of 30 minutes,” Griggs said.

Louws is an advocate of Kaizen events: short, intense efforts to improve a designated area or process. In essence, these can be concentrated efforts to clean up in such a way that things stay tidy. Louws tried this with his maintenance department as well as with some of the tools around his production floor. “We thought stuff was walking off,” he said, “but really we just couldn’t find it.”

If you’re ready to invest significant time and effort to identify and reduce inefficiencies in production, try a spaghetti diagram study. Griggs showed off the example below of how an effort to understand what was taking crews away from their work improved productivity.

The original study showed production staff walking all over the shop floor to get what they needed. Every trip away from their station was time not spent on production. With a few simple changes—relocating plate storage, lumber carts, or water bottles, for example—Griggs saw a 60% increase in productivity. With labor shortages throughout the industry, the importance of being able to do more without hiring can’t be understated.

Griggs emphasized that dramatic results aren’t necessarily due to huge changes or a radical rethink of production processes. “It’s the little things,” Griggs said. There’s generally a reason that someone isn’t putting a tool away or is leaving something on the floor where it’s both in the way and dangerous. Often, there are very simple fixes that are obvious as soon as you understand the real problem and not just the symptoms. “The question,” Griggs said, that a manager can always be asking a crew, “is ‘why do you do that?’” 

Try the pig exercise, see spaghetti diagrams and watch employees explain the Louws Truss inventory system by reviewing the BCMC handouts from the lean session. Read more about 5S in the May 2016 issue.