How to Create a Lean Warehouse Culture


Lean in Principle

There are three core parts to orchestrating lean tactics in a warehouse: tools, methods, and culture. Most companies have the equipment and processes to embrace lean. Culture, however, is often missing. Crafting an organizational culture that empowers lean concepts is a recurring challenge for companies, yet it yields the greatest return on investment. It doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a paradigm shift. Here are six steps to making lean best practices a reality:

1. Mutual Trust and Respect. Lean requires candor about long-term goals and short-term progress. Employee ideas must be given serious consideration. Lean is a journey that requires every person in the organization to be trained in problem solving and to feel like a highly valued company asset.

2. Freedom from Fear. If employees sense they will be punished for making a mistake, the lean journey will fail. Practitioners need to take risks and learn from mistakes. The goal of lean logistics is to challenge existing processes and look for ways to reduce waste. Lean is not about eliminating jobs, it’s about becoming so valuable that job security actually increases.

3. Communication. Senior executives and operational managers need to communicate their lean vision and a reason for change. They need to address why employees should be doing things differently than in the past. Many companies fail with lean because success isn’t immediate. As the journey begins, institutional problems become visible. Apprehensions and expectations must be communicated as part of an ongoing dialog. Solving these challenges can be very rewarding.

4. Measure What’s Important. Many companies use various metrics to evaluate their lean progression. But the most important benchmark is employee morale. If employees are excited and engaged, enjoy problem solving and eliminating waste, other metrics will reflect the true reality.

5. Celebrating Success. Along the lean journey, every accomplishment, however small, should be recognized and celebrated. Small wins build over time and show progress. Acknowledging and rewarding performance goes a long way toward building a world class championship team.

6. Leaders as Teachers. Managers who tutor staff in lean best practices lead by example. It’s important to be visible and to take a proactive role in the learning curve so that employees recognize corporate commitment.

Lean in Principle

Lean and just-in-time (JIT) are sometimes confused as being one in the same. People involvement, by comparison, is an oft-forgotten pillar of lean. Both are important foundations for the following five principles that drive lean process improvement.

PEOPLE INVOLVEMENT: People at all levels of the organization must feel like they are important members of the company. They are well trained and feel empowered to make decisions about how their job is performed and to be held accountable for decisions.

CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT: Every aspect of the business is constantly challenged to get better. What was considered good yesterday needs to be improved to be acceptable for today.

SHORT LEAD TIME: Reducing the time it takes to complete a task is a strong competitive advantage in today’s environment. Look for ways to eliminate non-value added activity and waste from every step in the process.

BUILT-IN QUALITY: Do it right the first time. Build quality control into your work processes to eliminate the high cost of rework and the need for downstream quality inspections.

STANDARDIZATION: Document your work processes based on best practices. Use standard operating procedures to help train new employees and use standardized work as a baseline for continuous improvement activities.

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