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Mike Micklewright

Six Sigma

Lean Tools Are Ideal for Product Life-Cycle Management

If you’re not embracing sustainability, you’re likely practicing ‘fake lean’

Published: Monday, January 19, 2015 - 16:40

Should an organization’s design engineers step foot on the production floor, or would this be too much of a distraction from what they get paid to do—cranking out new designs? For most progressive and forward-looking organizations, this is a no-brainer. Of course product engineers would be, and should be, concerned with the entire life cycle of the product, from concept to product burial in the vast sea of products consumed beyond their usefulness.

So, yes—those who design a product, along with those who design the process, would be found on the production floor, as well as the customer’s floor, as well as the product’s final resting place, because these people are concerned with the holistic life cycle of the product. They’re concerned because it’s their moral obligation and social responsibility to be concerned, as demanded by their organization’s policies, systems, processes, beliefs, mores, and values—that is, for progressive companies that embrace social responsibility.

And yet, I can quite vividly recall a company’s senior management discouraging its design engineers from walking onto to the production floor. The mantra at this organization, as well as the mantra within many other companies, is one that hasn’t changed since the 1970s. This mantra tells design engineers to stay on their side of the wall and not worry about the manufacturing side of the business, or manufacturability, or reliability, or the product’s disposal and its effect to the environment, or the very earth’s sustainability.

The irony of it all is that many of these same companies claim to be practicing lean! It’s ironic because implementing lean changes the focus of management from optimizing separate technologies and vertical departments to optimizing the flow of products and services through entire value streams flowing across technologies and departments. This flow includes delivering the product or service to customers and, ultimately, taking responsibility for the product’s or service’s final resting place. Organizations that are still thinking departmentally, discouraging interaction of key employees with the entire process of the product’s life cycles, are practicing “’fake lean.”

Innovation, lean, and the product life cycle

Peter Drucker, the late, great Austrian-born U.S. management consultant, once said, “Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship... the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.”

What, then, are those “acts” that endow resources with a new capacity to create wealth? What are the “acts” that will allow a company to act holistically regarding the life cycle of a product or service? The answer lies in implementing lean principles, culture, and tools into product and process design. This means deploying the following lean tools and cultural elements:
• Visual management
• Daily accountability meetings (or huddles)
• Standard work
• Risk management
• One-piece flow
Kaizen events
• Production, preparation, and process (3P)
Nemawashi (generating multiple alternatives, reaching consensus, and implementing rapidly)

To hear specifically how each of these tool and cultural elements will enhance product life-cycle management as well as innovation, watch the following video:

To learn more, see my new my new streaming-video training series, “Creating and Sustaining Lean Improvements—Integrating Principles, Culture, and Tools.


About The Author

Mike Micklewright’s picture

Mike Micklewright

Mike Micklewright has been teaching and facilitating quality and lean principles worldwide for more than 25 years. He specializes in creating lean and continuous improvement cultures, and has implemented continuous improvement systems and facilitated kaizen/Six Sigma events in hundreds of organizations in the aerospace, automotive, entertainment, manufacturing, food, healthcare, and warehousing industries. Micklewright is the U.S. director and senior consultant for Kaizen Institute. He has an engineering degree from the University of Illinois, and he is ASQ-certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt, quality auditor, quality engineer, manager of quality/operational excellence, and supply chain analyst.

Micklewright hosts a video training series by Kaizen Institute on integrating lean and quality management systems in order to reduce waste.