Performance over anything else in Lean Manufacturing



Operator performance is seen by many as a touchy subject. I’ve personally worked for companies where stop watches are banned from the shop floor anything that remotely suggests the performance people are working at is also banned. The company will then wonder why it can’t compete with its up and coming rivals price points.

Even if you’re in one of the above mentioned situations it’s not the end of the world, it’s definitely not ideal but we can work around this.

From my experience if you have a fairly well designed production system, Performance will be by far the biggest player in manufacturing throughput. Some Ci teams, Lean teams and even management choose to ignore performance as it scares them, they would rather avoid potential upset with their operators. In other words it makes their lives easier. It’s no coincidence that the most efficient companies in the world are those that really go after performance over anything else.

Car manufacturers

Let’s take a car manufacturing plant. Specifically let’s choose Lean’s old friend Toyota. I’ve chosen Toyota as they set the benchmark for performance with an average I believe to be around the 76% mark (Don’t quote me on this) but its round about that figure. Let’s imagine a car production line. It’s constantly moving it never stops. The workers have to get the part that they fit onto the car before the car moves past their area otherwise it stops the whole line. Do you think that is the most efficient way to work? The answer must be no, surely it’s more efficient to have that car stop and allow the worker to more easily fit the part.

Car manufacturing plants are designed this way to put pressure in the system. It’s a way of managing the performance of your work force to a really high degree. Car manufacturers put a lot of money and effort into to designing their plants like this as they know that managing performance gives the greatest rewards in throughput.

Pressure in the system

I don’t recommend this or advise you to do it unless it’s the last straw but if you were a manager of a company that was struggling to break even or even at risk of closure I can guarantee you that if you communicated to your workers that “if we don’t improve throughput were going to have to close down”, your performance would sky rocket. Why? The majority of people will settle into a job and do what they have to do. Why would you make life harder than it needs to be?

The simplest and cheapest way to put pressure into a system is to have something to aim for. This could be a deadline, throughput targets or live orders. Another really good method is competition. Maybe you have more than one production line making the same product and each week you reward the team that achieves the highest throughput to the required standard. There’s nothing like competition to improve throughput!


Something you must do is build some baseline data. What are your current throughput and performance figures? You can use current averages and also comparisons to the same time the previous year if you have seasonal variation. If you don’t have this data you won’t know if you’re improving and how successful your improvement initiatives have been.

Start with throughput

Weekly throughput Chart with weekly orders and target line

Using just throughput isn’t the worst start. This is usually the first thing I would put on any visual management board anyway. What I like is a week by week throughput bar chart with an expected deliveries per week vs achieved. If we fall short it’s red if we achieve its green and anything above our target is blue. I also like to use an average target line set above anything we have achieved in the past, it’s a sort of stretch target that you can reward for if achieved. This gives everyone something to strive for.

It’s a competitive world out there

Your strongest message should always be that the company and everyone employed by it should strive to continuously improve and cut costs. We live in a world where there will always be a company aiming to make what you do, to the same quality and at a cheaper price. If we rest and put our feet up and don’t push forwards constantly they will catch up, overtake us and effectively put us out of business. To stay ahead and keep everyone employed for years to come we all need to be bought in and push ourselves every day.









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