Now is the time to look at your business and set realistic goals for the year ahead, says LEAN Business Coach Ray McCreadie.

Ray says: "Early 2023 is the right time to establish realistic goals for our businesses that seek to improve performance and strive for operational excellence. To kick start the journey there are many tools that can be utilised, many techniques to apply, many terminologies to learn. Take time to consider the following questions to determine the problems your company has to overcome and the time it will take to implement any changes.

1. How many distinct value streams operate within your organisation?

When companies first start up, they have a small number of products. As the company grows, the growth leads to complexity. Companies that are deemed to be operationally excellent have discovered the importance of simplification by creating smaller units or value streams. Doing so permits teams to explore improvement possibilities without being encumbered by the complex nature of the entire enterprise.

2. What percentage of your value streams have been mapped?

A value stream map is a visual representation of the processes required to produce a product or service. Start by identifying the number of distinct value streams, and then map them individually. Later the data can be "rolled-up" into one document, if that is necessary for overall plant capacity planning, loading, and line balancing, but separating them at the value-stream mapping stage is critical.

3. What is the takt time for your primary value streams?

Takt time is calculated by dividing available time by demand, it is the manufacturing rhythm required to meet the customers’ requirements; just as the heartbeat provides a flow of blood in living creatures. If one process produces more than the next operation can absorb, then problems occur. When everyone works to the same rhythm, that behaviour reduces inventory, waiting, motion, transportation, and all the other forms of waste.

4. What is the value-added ratio for your primary value streams?

This ratio is expressed this way; 1:100 or 1:20. In this case, we are interested in finding the difference or ratio between value added time and non-value-added time. Value added is defined as something the customer is willing to pay for. Non-value-added time consists of activities that the customer is unwilling to pay for. Once teams develop their value-stream maps, it should be easy to calculate the true value-added ratio of each value stream.

5. What percentage reduction in machine setup times have you experienced ?

Toyota has taught the value of spending the minimum time in the "pits" between production runs. Machines are like racing cars, and changeovers should be approached like the pit stops. Find standardised ways of doing things to reduce the downtime associated with setup.

6. To what degree have the 5S (housekeeping) programs been implemented in your plant? 5S is one of the most visual and morale-boosting techniques in which teams can participate. Workplace organisation seems like common sense, but the 5S disciplines take it to a higher level. For a while, there may have

to be an audit process until the disciplines of 5S become part of the organisational DNA.

7. What percentage of your facility is in cellular versus functional layout?

No one sets out to develop wasteful manufacturing processes, it is an evolutionary development. As new machines are added to a process, they are often grouped or arranged by functions. Over time, departmental (functional) layout results in increased transportation between departments, layers of departmental supervision, departmental inventories and departmental barriers, all manifesting themselves in wasteful and time-consuming job and material tracking, along with countless other non-value-added activities. Shared resources create challenges, but creative scheduling and hybrid takt times can net significant gains.

8. What is your current DPMO or Defects Per Million Opportunities metric

If customers are not currently asking for this dimension, get ready. They will begin seeking this indicator of process capabilities soon.

9. Are your kaizen events tied to clear and understandable business objectives?

Kaizen is a Japanese word for continuous improvement. Making sure that the events are not based on quantity, but on quality. Steering teams will ensure that the kaizen-event charters are tied to clear and communicated objectives, objectives that are in turn tied to the organisational vision.

10. What percentage of your products are replenished using a kanban system?

How many of the items that you use in the manufacture of products are maintained on a "pull system" or kanban replenishment program? We can learn a lot by observing other industries (i.e., restaurants, gas stations, hotels, etc.), and noticing how they manage their inventories. The goal is to have the minimum on hand while not putting delivery to customers at risk.

Manufacturers in Cumbria should take advantage of the "breather" created by the current economic slowdown to prepare for the next wave of work that is sure to come. It does not matter how good we were yesterday or last year or during the last economic boom. We have to get better every day. Our customers have short memories of how good we were. They tend to be focused on how dependable and capable we will be tomorrow. I hope that this short self-examination might lead you to realise that your team must continue to improve their performance if they are to be viewed as operational excellent in the future."