The Secrets of Getting Lean Started [Webinar]

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Implementing a Lean Manufacturing initiative is a big undertaking. Getting lean started isn’t always easy. Scores of companies try and fail while others succeed.

What are the secrets to getting Lean off the ground properly?

Join us for a webinar featuring friends of the 5S Store, Newcastle Systems, to hear about their experience implementing Lean Manufacturing. Key employees John O’Kelly, founder and President, and Jason Williams, Operations Director, will join us to share their learning and dos and don’ts related to getting a Lean implementation off the ground.

In this 5S Store webinar, we’ll moderate a discussion to hear the perspectives of both practitioner and executive, including questions from the audience throughout the discussion to ensure everyone’s needs are met.

In this webinar, you will hear:

  • How business leaders make a decision to implement Lean
  • Signs that your Lean initiative is taking hold and working
  • What do when things get off track with your Lean implementation
  • Best practices for cultural engagement around your lean initiative
  • Favorite Lean tools and why
  • The impact of 5S on Newcastle System’s Lean initiative.

Resources from The Secrets of Getting Lean Started Mentioned in the Webinar

Use these resources to help you think about the intersection of 5S and lean:

Meet the Lean Team from Newcastle Systems

John O’Kelly ‌founded Newcastle Systems and has served as its president over the past 15 years. Seasoned in the world of workstations designed for ergonomics and workflow, John deeply understands their impact on efficiency and safety. John has had experience with Lean implementations at several companies, and most recently initiated its use at Newcastle Systems. 

Jason Williams is the Director of Operations at Newcastle Systems.  He’s an experienced operations professional with materials and production background in medical device and other industries.  In addition to 15 years of experience with Lean Manufacturing, Jason has experience with validation, GMP, and is a Six Sigma blackbelt.


Transcripts from The Secrets of Getting Lean Started webinar.

To download a PDF of the transcripts click here

Maribeth:

Hello. Before we get started with our discussion today, we have a few housekeeping items to review with you. The hashtag for today’s webinar is #secretsoflean. Feel free to post insights to your networks on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram using this hashtag.


Today, we’re inviting questions throughout the presentation. You can submit those via the Q&A capability. You’ll see the button for this in the footer of your screen. We’ll attempt to answer all questions during our session, but if your question isn’t covered today, we’ll follow up with you after the webinar with a document that includes all the answers. We’re also going to be asking some polling questions of the audience during our program today, and we’ll be sharing that data from the responses gathered live during our webinar. This session is being recorded, and it will be sent to you following the presentation for your own purposes or to share with others.

Now, I’d like to introduce you to our speakers. John Kelly founded Newcastle Systems, and he served as its president over the past 15 years. Seasoned in the world of workstations designed for ergonomics and workflow, John deeply understands their impact on efficiency and safety. He’s had experience with Lean implementations at several companies, and most recently, he initiated its use at Newcastle Systems.

Jason Williams is the director of operations at Newcastle Systems. He’s an experienced operations professional with material and production background in medical device and other industries. In addition to 15 years of experience with Lean manufacturing, Jason also has experience with validation, GMP, and he’s a Six Sigma black belt.

We welcome both of today’s speakers. I’m your moderator, Maribeth, and I’ll be leading our discussion today, as well as taking questions from the audience throughout the webinar. So, as those questions roll in, I’ll be inserting them into the discussion, but I’d like to get us started with some of the topics that we promised that we’d cover today. So, let me start with a question for John. I’d like to ask you, John, how did Newcastle Systems make the decision to move forward with the Lean manufacturing initiative?

John:

Okay. Thank you. Well, back in 2012, our company was about seven years old at that point, and we were going through a lot of growth. Many years, the growth was double digit. And so, we knew that we had to evaluate some of our manufacturing processes and procedures, and especially when we were operating in a small 8,000 square foot facility with the administration offices right beside us. And we first were dabbling in, I call it dabbling in Lean, where we did a basic time study of our most popular products to see how long it would take us to assemble it, and we determined that it took us 1,000 footsteps to build one of these products.

Well, I have to say I was floored by that. I was like, “1,000 footsteps to build one product,” it seemed ridiculous. It seemed a very wasteful. And so, that certainly caught my attention. And especially what caught my attention was my office was right out onto the production floor, so I thought if I could miss this level of inefficiency, I thought there must be a lots of other examples that I could explore.

Maribeth:

Great. Thank you for that. So, I would love to put up our first polling question for our audience and get some opinions related to getting support at the C level for Lean manufacturing initiatives. So, here’s the question. It’s a true/false. We have support at the C level for our Lean manufacturing initiative. Please answer this question with true or false, and I’ll review the responses with you in just a moment.

Alrighty, that seems like enough time to give folks to answer that polling question. Let’s look at the results. So, it looks like about just under 80% say that they have C level support for Lean manufacturing initiatives, and there’s still a remaining 21% that feel like they don’t. And we’ve heard in the past that having that C level support is super important. So, I would love to start with a question to John, as the president of a company, could you tell us what you think the president of a company needs to hear in order to agree to sign up for a Lean initiative?

John:

Sure. For me, I felt one needs to hear that our processes are not efficient and that with some simple improvements, we can make some significant benefits right away. So, just like the example I gave of the 1,000 steps, which was a shock to us, subsequently when we were able to reduce our product assembly, we went from 52 minutes to 36 minutes, which was a 30% reduction in the time. This really caught attention and knew that we were right on track with that.

Another example of what we needed to hear was one time we visited a company called Hypertherm in New Hampshire. They’re a $2 billion manufacturing company. And once we learned that they do not have any finished goods, all of their product is made to order, I was very surprised by this, and I knew that if a big company like this, a $2 billion company like, this could set up where they don’t have any finished inventory using a [Kanban 00:07:08], I figured Newcastle could definitely do the same. And the benefit to us of this, it was significant. We were able to go from four week lead time to two week, which had a serious impact on our business.

Maribeth:

So, it sounds for sure that you’re results-focused. Jason, I’m going to point this one at you now. So, I imagine you’ve been in the role before where you had to convince the higher ups that Lean made sense. Could you talk to me a little bit about the kinds of things that you’ve done to convince the leadership?

Jason:

Sure. Yeah. I always thought something very important is what the justification for Lean, why are we doing it? And obviously, to eliminate waste, but it opens up a lot of things about cost reduction. At the end of the day, we’re trying to [inaudible 00:07:58] focus on end user, which is the customer. So, internally, if we can go from building a product that takes us an hour to a half hour, we have resources to put on other things. And the way we look at it here at Newcastle, too, it’s not just the production. We [inaudible 00:08:16] Lean through the office area, so we have it through sales and marketing, through operations, through logistics. The proof is in our KPIs. We can prove that we can turn around a product, [output 00:08:30] our efficiencies have improved. We’re a growing company, so it’s very important that we utilize our resources in the right way.


And the other thing that we also look at is we’re people’s jobs easier, and people appreciate that. Everybody wants to be efficient at working, and it’s good for morale of the company. People want to work here. People are happy. So, at the end of the day, a lot of the Lean initiatives that you implement are also for the employees for the jobs to make it easier and safer for them.

Maribeth:

The benefits are many, for sure. So, let’s talk a little bit about, once you decided to put Lean in place at Newcastle System, what are some of the signs, or how long did it take for you to know that it was starting to work, John?

John:

In our example, it really only took a few months. Once we could see that it was taking hold, and some of that manifested itself with our manufacturing manager could see that our productivity was noticeably higher and that we were able to, quite honestly, keep up with the orders, other departments, we saw some benefit. They saw if they did a 5S, or some assembly stations, they had some interest in that. They could see that there was some benefit to them in helping them with their organization. And then, in, for example, our customer service department, they were interested in looking at doing a value stream of our returns process. So, when you started to have all these people inquiring about this, you could tell that this can move forward by itself with the inertia that was developed. So, it came from many different angles, I guess.

Maribeth:

That’s great. So, I’m curious to hear what the audience has to say about this, so let’s put up our next polling question to ask them what they’ve seen in terms of the results of their Lean initiative. So, for those of you who have a Lean initiative in place, if you could select from this list of multiple choice answers and respond, we’ll review those responses in just a moment.
(silence). Great. Please finish up your selections, and we’ll put the response data up on the screen. Let’s see what we have here. All right. So, quite a mix happening here. It looks like the length of time varies greatly in terms of seeing results from the Lean initiative. Setting expectations has to be a huge part of this, I imagine, especially when you’re trying to have C level support for your initiatives. So, I’m going to point this one to you, Jason. I bet you have some perspective on how to that Lean’s working, so could you share what you think is important to measure and how to set expectations with management?

Jason:

Sure. Yeah. There’s several things that you can measure with Lean. Some of the things that we do is we’re looking at our output. Has it increased? Have we reduced our lead times? There’s cost saving initiatives that we have that can be done. Some of the other things we do is the before and after, which I really like, is you’re trying to get a buy-in from everybody. One way to measure it is to show them the current process and then show them the proposal, the new process to show them. Again, it could be a cost saving or it could be a reduction in time to increase your output. So, several different ways that we can actually get people involved a part of the measurement.

And the other thing we do here is we have an internal combine or a supermarket that we have that we built some assemblies, and it’s very visual. We can go out there and we can look right away if that’s not being replenished, we’re going back to the way we’re going through a push system rather than a pulse system. So, there’s a lot of visual things that you can do, too, for measuring, but at the end of the day, it’s looking and measuring and developing KPIs that work for your organization.

Maribeth:

Got it. So, there are questions beginning to roll in, and one of them is specific to a metric that John brought up at the beginning of our webinar. And so, the question was about the 1,000 footstep process that John brought up. We’re curious to hear, what did that equate to in time, and what was the time cut down to, if you know, John?

John:

Sure. That’s what I was mentioning there. We started off at about 52 minutes to build this one product. It was our NB series. It was our most popular product. And we were able to get that down to 36 minutes without… It didn’t take us years to do that. It took us, perhaps, a couple of weeks by the time we changed the work area.

Maribeth:

And what was the time at the beginning?

John:

It was 52 minutes, and it went to 36 minutes.

Maribeth:

That’s an impressive improvement.

John:

Yeah. It’s 30%, a little over 30%. I was really surprised by this.

Maribeth:

Fantastic. Well, thanks for sharing. So, I’m going to move on to our next question. So, things don’t always go perfectly smoothly. Everyone wishes that they would, but not everything is smooth sailing. So, what do you do when things get off track? Jason, I want to ask you, what’s your opinion on how to keep things on track?

Jason:

Yeah. Very difficult things can get off track really quick when you’re getting busy, people think of Lean as a secondary things. So, I think it’s very important that some things we do here is we put it into the goals of all of us. So, interaction with employees and having the Lean meetings and keeping people engaged, I think is very key. Again, even though if you’re busy, you have to take time and meet and make projects. And one of the things we also do here is we get some of our employees trained so that they can be green belts so they can develop some projects and get other people involved. So, I think it’s keeping that visibility.

And also, in these Lean meetings, coming up with ideas that you can maybe not implement right away, but you should be taking everybody’s feedback and maybe parking some of these ideas and saying, “Well, we might not do it today, but that’s not lose focus on it.” So, I think one of the things is being dedicated to keep meeting with people and keep different projects and also sharpening your Lean skills by having more training.

Maribeth:

We also had a question from the audience that’s related, so it’s about sustainment of Lean efforts. You gave us a good list there, but if you had to prioritize the activities that you put in place to sustain Lean efforts internally, what are some of the things that you put at the top of the list, Jason?

Jason:

Accountability, I think, is a really big one, and we do that in several different ways. One of them is we do put it into the employee’s goals. We do put Lean initiatives in there that they need to meet and sustain. And the other thing that we do is we do a lot of auditing, and this is something that we do… We do some daily and some weekly. We do a 5S audit daily on each product line to make sure people are following through, and we measure that and we give feedback immediately on that. And then the other one, I think, the team meetings that we have, the Lean meetings, getting people’s feedback, getting them involved. I think that’s a great tool, as well.

Maribeth:

Thanks for that. Let’s put it out to the audience now. I’d love to ask them a yes/no question about what they’re experiencing in terms of bumps in the road. So, that question is up on your screen. Please take a moment to answer. … And if folks could finish up selecting true or false, we’ll put up the response. And 100% of folks have seen some bumps in the road with their Lean implementation. So, Jason, I’m going to point this one at you. Are you surprised by that number?

Jason:

Not at all. It’s a challenge for everybody, and places I’ve either worked at or visited or training I’ve been with other people, it’s one of the hardest things to do.

Maribeth:

Yeah. Yeah. So, let’s stick on this topic for a second, because it seems to be a pain point for folks. I’m going to ask you, John, what are some shore fire signs, things that you saw that you could tell that Lean was beginning to catch on with the culture?

John:

Okay. I guess, well, for me, it was when our sales director, Kevin Ledversis, started to use the Lean tools to help some of their sales processes and sales tools. I was surprised by that. And then, we also, we had started to offer to do green belt, like Jason mentioned there, and we opened it up to everyone in the company. And we had salespeople want to join, and then we had administrative people want to join. And I just thought that this is really, it says something about their belief in the direction of where we’re going and what we’re doing with regard to Lean, and that was significant to me.

Also, the fact that we have Lean as part of our core values, that I’m sure did helped, as well, because it puts it to the fore and they can see that executives of the company are really behind this. I think that’s most important so that they can see that you’re walking the walk and talk the talk, and I think that’s important to, like Jason said, to keep it going, keep the momentum.

Maribeth:

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And Jason, when we were preparing for this webinar, you and I talked quite a bit about some of the ways that you guys have helped to get Lean to stick with the culture at Newcastle. And one of the things that you talked about is that sometimes when you see bumps in the road, it’s because people are a little afraid of it. So, you’ve done some very specific things to help people get over that hurdle. Do you mind sharing?

Jason:

Sure. I think one of them is show the results. One of the things we do is we do communicate and show the result of what we were trying to implement so we can get a buy-in from people. People do get a little freaked out sometimes. They think if we’re trying to streamline a process or take some waste out of it, that their job’s going to be in jeopardy, but it’s not that. And we try to prove it to people and show them that, “Hey, this could free you up to do something else,” and maybe do some cross training for these individuals of something they want to do differently.

But then, also, that’s why it’s key that we share our KPIs that we’ve developed with our employees, and we do that on a week to week basis, or even quarterly. We have a quarterly meeting that we go over this, too. So, we try to keep them engaged and make them part of this. We want them to know that this is really for them. One thing I go out there and do, I’ll facilitate meetings, but I want the people to drive the meetings and drive the improvements. They’re the ones that are on the front line building product or taking orders or whatever they could be doing. So, I think that’s very important, is employee involvement and also, like John said, knowing that they have support from the upper management.

Maribeth:

So, we had a question come in from the audience that’s along the same lines. It’s about overcoming this resistance to change. Right? And so, was there one tactic that was the most successful thing?

Jason:

I think it’s, like I said, the before and after, showing people that… We had one person, I’ll give you an example of that, that we had that we went to our one piece flow, and this one person kept thatch building. And he was taking almost double the time to build his product, and he just would not listen to us. And we had to show him a little bit that if you follow this way… It was out of his comfort level zone. He wanted to do it his way, but something he had done previously, but we showed him the results of the before and after, “If you actually follow through this process, it’s going to be quicker.”

But also, it’s not him running around trying to build 10 products rather than building one product and then one piece flow with somebody else. So, I think it’s that before and after, really showing people the results that you can get. Because, again, people sometimes come in and they work in other companies, and they look at you, they think that, “That’s not going to work.” So, I think showing them how it works and showing them the improvements in the time that they might be saving by implementing something different.

Maribeth:

So, in the case of that person that was resisting when you showed them, did they change their behavior after that?

Jason:

They tried. It was not easy. That person did try to change. I don’t think this person ever really bought it. Unfortunately, it’s not for everybody, each company, whatever. But most of the people here have bought in. It’s a cultural change, and that’s why it’s important to get that message down from upper management, as well, that this is the way we want to go, and doing all the things, the weekly meetings, all the things that we’ve added.

Eventually, the culture changes, and one of the examples I can give you is when we bring in new employees now, we’re in the process of training people, they don’t train them just on the processes. One of the things that they actually train now is Lean. This is the way we do it. This is why we do it. It’s nice to see that. That’s a buy-in. People are buying in, and that culture is changed now.

Maribeth:

That’s great. We had a very thoughtful question for the audience, and I think it’s worth having both of you guys answer this one. So, I’m going to point this one at John first, and then Jason, I’ll ask you the same thing. So, the question is, when improved efficiencies lead to significant labor savings, what are the determining factors for cutting excess labor versus directing them towards further growth?

John:

Well, I mean, that’s obviously sometimes people denote the phrase Lean with cutting, and for us, it’s really not about that. It’s really more about where can we deploy if we gain an extra half hour or 20 minutes per person, or whatever it is. Then we look to other areas that we can deploy these people to in different parts of the facility. I mean, it’s not, obviously a straightforward question to answer here right off the bat, but that’s what we do. So, we would enable people to perhaps go to other departments where they could help with some bottlenecks or whatever it is, and that’s something that I think you have to make sure that you get the buy-in from your people on the team. Because if you don’t, and they see that all you’re doing here is taking these efficiencies and then getting rid of the extra labor, that’s not a recipe for adoption. That’s a recipe for denial of the whole Lean program.

So, for us, we’ve never really had to really seriously consider that because our business, as I said, was growing well into the double digits every year, and it still is doing that. And so, we constantly have to… or trying to figure out ways that we can improve the processes in the manufacturing area. And initially, they may start off in an assembly area, and then they may go to the packaging area or the receiving area or the returns, and all of those areas, you can all, as we found, it can all be improved, you can get them make them more efficient. So, that’s what we’ve done with the savings, if you like.

Maribeth:

So, Jason, I’ll ask you the same thing. Based on your experience at other companies, as well, have you ever faced anything like this, where you’ve had to make the decision between cutting the extra labor or reapplying it to something else? And how does a business make that decision?

Jason:

I never really experienced implementing Lean to get rid of people’s jobs. I mean, there is so much to do, but I definitely think that communicating with the employees is very key to have them understand that we’re not here to take their jobs away by even implementing a process improvement like that. It’s good to meet with people and say, “What else do you want to do? Can we cross train you in a different department? Or can we get you some projects? Maybe it could be a Lean project.” Or I’ll get them on other things, and I think that’s very important where you’re definitely engaging people so that they’re part of it.

But I do understand, it isn’t fair for some people, and I think that’s really why it’s key, that communication, with your employees and also ensuring them that… maybe even throw in a reward. If you complete a project or come up with an idea, you get a gift card.


One of the places I worked at, we had a Lean award where somebody would come up with a process improvement or something, that we would give them a… They had a little trophy we would give them, and they would be able to put that on their desk until the next person came up with one. So, I think it’s really working with your employees and keeping them hungry and in that comfort level, because people definitely do not want to lose their jobs by implementing this. And if you want this to really take off and work, yeah, you don’t want that fear factor for people.

Maribeth:

I think that’s a great point. So, an interesting thing that we have going on at the 5S store right now is we have a live survey out in market about the state of Lean manufacturing. And at the end of this webinar, folks, I’ll tell you how to get to that survey and take the survey, but what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to get to critical mass to really see what some of the trends in Lean implementations are that are out there across companies of all sizes and all places and all industries. I’ve had a preview look into the data so far, and what’s curious, to me, is that while Lean was… Really, the purpose of Lean is about the value stream to the customer and giving the customer a better outcome. There, I think, is a cohort of companies that may implement it for the sake of cost savings, and it sounds to me, John and Jason, like you guys are more aligned with this concept of doing better for the customer than you are about saving resources or time. Is that fair to say?

John:

I would think so. Part of our core, another one of our core values, is our customer focus, and we’ve tried to adopt that to do, basically, to take care of the customer, because we feel that if you do that, everything else will take care of itself. And for us, that’s been pretty significant. Especially when we were able to reduce our lead time from four weeks to two weeks, I mean, customers love that, and we were able to do it without having to add an extension to the building or whatever. So, I would definitely say that’s it.

Maribeth:

Good. Thanks for that. So, I’m going to ask a final question here before we wrap up. Since the 5S store sponsored this webinar, I’d be remiss to not ask how you guys utilize 5S. So, I’ll start with you, Jason.

Jason:

Sure. One of the things that we’ve done is we’ve, on each product line, we have 5S-ed every one, and some of the things that we’ve done is add visual aides. Each product line is set up by color so you know the tools where they belong. We have silhouettes that each employee will put when they’re done. Materials refilled after each day, or even during the day of the shift.

But the visual aides. And also standardization is very important here, not only in the work workflow, but we just had somebody come up with a great idea in our company where in our filing system for our company files, everybody uses something different. Where, now, if you try to search, you can’t find anything, so standardization is very important part of the success for us. And for our product, we look at it a lot with safety. We look to make sure that our production workers are not bending over, ergonomics aren’t problem. So, we use a lot of the 5S tools for that type of process.

Maribeth:

Gotcha. And John, is there anything in particular that you’re fond of relative to the use of 5S at Newcastle?

John:

I mean, some of these are more the tools that we’ve adopted. You do a kaizen event, if that’s what you’re asking here about it. In a particular area, we’d go and evaluate the whole process and see how we can make improvements to that. And obviously, there are different tools that we have adopted, as Jason mentioned there. Some of them regarding labeling, magnetizes labeling, and that’s something that we have worked with the 5S store far, and it’s been very helpful to us. And it continues the message that we’re trying to portray [inaudible 00:32:28] giving people both, internally especially.

Maribeth:

Thanks for that. So, thank you, Jason and John, and thank you to our viewers for all of your questions. I wanted to take a moment to let you know a few things that we have going on. So, first of all, the 5S store is having a 20% off blitz sale now through the 23rd of this month on adhesive floor signs, so if you want to go to the5Sstore.com and take advantage of these very low prices, you can enter 20offsigns at checkout. And if you can’t remember that code, it will be up on the top of the screen for you.
Also, if you need the point of view of an expert, here’s some resources that can help. So, David has his book, 5S Made Easy. We also have a free resource on the five S store website called The 5S Blackboard, where there’s before and after pictures and white papers and templates and how-to information that you can access for free. Also on The 5S Blackboard, you can find access to the survey. So, if you’re a Lean practitioner and you’d like to take our state of Lean survey, you can access it from there. David is also available free to reach out, and his contact information is on the screen. And as always, feel free to follow and watch our social channels, which you can see on the right hand side of the screen here. Thank you

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