Lean Through COVID-19: Adapting Lean Tools To Changing Times

Posted by Greg Thompson on Apr 29, 2020 3:06:53 PM

lean mfg-1

The global response to the Coronavirus has impacted all of us. The need for continuous improvement persists, and one may argue is even more important during challenging times. How can we use lean tools during this time?

Employee Involvement

Lean is as much about culture change and employee involvement as is the application of the tools. Crisis often encourages people to rise to the occasion, and for many, the current conditions may inspire a call to arms…an opportunity to give more than they usually do. Use this opportunity to tap into your employees’ creativity and ideas. The way you’ve done things for the past five years may no longer be currently possible due to lack of staffing or safe physical distancing. Perhaps it wasn’t the best way to do it in the first place. Challenge your employees to find creative ways to make things work. Some work-arounds will not be improvements but will have to be tolerated due to current conditions. Other changes are opportunities to experiment with new ideas and methods. Measure results and keep the practices that work well for you for years to come.

I recently read an article about an engineer/doctor couple who developed a method to bulk sanitize N95 masks for healthcare. It allows for the reuse of masks up to 20 times. There was a need…they found a creative way to address the need with technology that already existed. Challenge your team to do the same when you have a crisis.

Lean Tools

Application of lean tools is fundamentally the same as it was before we knew what coronavirus was. Identify & eliminate waste through continuous improvement. A challenge you will have is fostering teamwork during a time when social isolation is encouraged. Communication is paramount. Instead of traditional close contact, this may consist of conference room meetings with people spread out, use of white boards on the shop floor, increased text and e-mail, working remotely through webinars and other on-line tools, etc. Group lean projects such as quick changeover and value stream mapping can still be done as long as you can practice social distancing in a conference room. A group 5S project could be completed in iterations of staff removing items for Red Tag consideration to be reviewed later by others. Upon consensus, an item is placed in the Red Tag Area, otherwise, a brief explanation of an objection could be shared with the group (text, note, or white board). Individual use of lean thinking has no COVID-19 obstacles and is always encouraged.

As an IMEC technical specialist, most of my time engaged with clients happens on-site. While there are some things that I have had to postpone, I have been able to do some work remotely. This includes 5S coaching for a company that was moving locations. While not ideal, technology allowed me to help keep them moving forward through pictures, webinars, and phone calls. For many of you, your business needs weren’t put on hold. You need to keep moving forward, do the best with what you have to work with, and take this opportunity to find new ways to do things better.

Contact IMEC for help implementing leans tools that can help you prepare for a post- COVID-19 world.

Greg Thompson

Written by Greg Thompson

Topics: lean, lean Manufacturing, continuous improvement, COVID-19

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