ISO? Lean? Why Not Both?
ISE Magazine – Volume 48 : Number 10
By Joe Perillo

Both lean manufacturing principles and obtaining ISO certification can be accomplished as stand-alone strategies, yet Riva Precision Manufacturing is implementing them simultaneously.

Lean manufacturing is a straightforward approach where one understands what activities add value versus what activities don’t add value to eliminate waste. While lean theory originated with seven wastes, Riva and other lean practitioners have added a “P” for “people potential” to the acronym TIM WOOD (Transportation, Inventory, Motion, People potential, Waiting, Overprocessing. Overproduction, Defects). By eliminating and reducing waste, the results produce a “prime product”. The “byproduct” of these actions are cost reductions and cost controls. Making capacity increase the primary function of lean manufacturing allows the workforce to concentrate on growing the organization, not shrinking it. By focusing on growth, these actions directly complement the addition of ISO certification.

ISO certification, overseen by the International Organization of Standards (ISO), is the process best described as a method of documenting what you do and, as a manufacturer, proving to others that you can show that you follow the process you documented. ISO certification is a badge that lets current and potential customers know you have a documented process that has controls for quality, along with accountability for process improvement. This allows customers to be reassured that they will receive products that meet their requirements.

Most organizations see repair as an accepted part of a normal process. The first step in changing this culture is to be self-aware of this mindset. Changing a culture would be the main challenge when they hired a chief operating officer to instill lean values. True and effective change does not come from mere process improvement but more from establishing a culture that includes and encourages the entire organization to question the status quo.

Repairs came about because of how new product development was handed off to manufacturing. Often, specifications were not complete. This was an accepted practice because of the assumption that “manufacturing would figure it out.” This created opportunities for variation, which any lean practitioner knows opens the door to defects.

ISO certification involves documented controls of a process. Lean manufacturing, with its drive to question why things are done and what is needed to develop a better process and reduce waste, is a perfect complement to ISO certification. Take the venerable lean tool called “the five whys.” This method is simple to use – and if you have ever been around small children, you may already know how it works. As you encounter an issue that looks like it may have non-value-added activity, you begin by asking why, you keep asking until you find the root cause.

Why do most organizations keep doing it the same – and wrong – way? The answer is the culture. They just follow the same process they were taught. One of the most important elements of changing the culture is establishing leaders who will model the way and provide the support in not just changing a process but in changing the mindset.

If ISO is defined by process control and lean manufacturing is the elimination of waste, we can see how they both can be implemented at the same time. Making sure the process is defined by the customer’s requirements will help your organization establish controls that will make sure the product or service does not vary, driving your organization to its optimal outcome: the delivery of products, goods or material that meet your customers’ specifications.

Changing the culture is more about teaching and serving than it is about actual change. For them to begin to believe there is a better way, they need to know what waste looks like and have a clear understanding of what value and nonvalue are. Most people will make the initial change, but when the pressure is on, they will revert back to what they know best or what is familiar – their comfort zones, so to speak.

Teaching and serving involves servant leadership. Leaders use this method to show that they are there to serve their employees and listen rather than give instruction and demand change. Asking the five whys is one way to use your listening skills and give you opportunities to serve. By asking why, you are automatically listening to the employees’ explanation of why the process is being done the way it is.

Leadership is defined as having influence, but to have influence a leader needs to establish a relationship with his or her workforce. While many question what servant leadership has to do with implementing a lean initiative or establishing an ISO certification program, remember that in any organization the key issue is people.

Without people you do not have a culture. When people are involved, it becomes more complicated. A manual process requires training, and controls need to be implemented to make sure that variables are reduced or eliminated. How you use your people in process development and how they bring their experience and training to bear are critical to your lean manufacturing and ISO certification initiatives.

Serving people becomes the priority when beginning any transformation journey. The first step is to observe and listen. When people see that you can listen, it tells them that you care. They need to be part of the solution, which, in turn, allows them to own the process. We begin to create a culture of effective leadership by listening, serving and empowering individuals. As individuals begin to feel that they have a part in making a difference by making improvements and developing process controls, you will begin to see the momentum toward true cultural change.