Lean Factory Design Part 3


I've been posting a few comments on factory design (Part 1 and Part 2). Here a final, but important, comment on what people do wrong as they design a new factory, or re-layout an existing one.

5. The Design Process
How groups go about their factory design is perhaps the most troubling aspect. We come up with some objectives, far too often driven by a myopic objective such as a single piece of new business, hand it off to an engineer to sit in front of AutoCAD and come up with a design. This is followed by a million criticisms which put the engineer into a box in which no happy solution exists. There are several flaws with this from an approach standpoint including (a) all designs are only iterations from the first one which is the ‘anchor' design, (b) only a small subset of factors are considered, the rest are forced later, and (c) only a small fraction of those who live with the outcome understand how the solution was determined. While I could write a whole chapter on this, I will only provide a simple template for a design. First, understand your current state. Map your material, information and people flows, waste streams, options for expansion and so on. Understand what you like and don't like. Then, work carefully to develop a full-set of design criteria, or critical success factors. These criteria are important as you will use them to evaluate your design. It is unlikely that one design will be superior in all criteria, because you will have to make tradeoffs. Then you start to develop alternative layouts. In your first round, include as many people as possible in separate teams and develop many alternatives simultaneously. This is the only way to get a wide range of options. Leave no constraints on the teams. They should focus on what is possible, what is ideal. But do these designs with paper, scissors and tape spread out on a table. This is the ‘paper doll' method. DO NOT do this on a computer, even if you have a great laptop, incredible CAD software and a great projection system (hey fellow engineers, please heed this advice). Despite advances in software, it is much easier to collaborate and think out of the box huddled around paper than pointing at a screen while you wait for someone to turn a machine 90 degrees. Evaluate these designs and go at it again, taking what people like and don't like and another set of clean sheets of paper. Do this as many times as possible given your resources and time. Eventually you will begin to converge on a handful of solutions at which point, it is helpful to get broader involvement, allowing people to see, think about and give input. You will also need to do more detailed analysis, as paper and scissors can't tell you if you just stuck a 18 inch conveyor through a 17″ opening. As last points of advice on the processes, make sure you have cross-functional involvement. Also, make sure those cross-functional people don't ‘represent' their department, but are focused on the overall performance of the factory. This isn't a negotiation or a land-grab, this is to fix the process. Use current reality to help you solve problems. Do your work close to the floor or if possible, carve out an empty spot on the floor and set up some tables and do it there. And lastly, don't try to be perfect. Focus on making progress and assume that whatever you do will be wrong the day it's out there. Factory design is only a step forward, not a replacement for daily continuous improvement.

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Jamie Flinchbaugh
Jamie Flinchbaugh is an accomplished Entrepreneur, Senior Executive, and Board Member with more than 20 years of success spanning finance, manufacturing, automotive, and management consulting. Leveraging extensive operational experience, Jamie is an invaluable asset for a company seeking expert guidance with process improvements, lean strategies, and leadership coaching in order to transform operations, reduce costs, and drive profitability. His areas of expertise include continuous improvement, entrepreneurship, coaching and training, process transformation, business strategy, and organizational design.


  1. Jamie, you’ll be happy to hear that I have used that exact same method, with success in the layout and re-design of a medical laboratory. We had a cross functional team working in a room next to the lab (with a window looking into the lab) doing the “paper doll” layout method that you describe. We went through many iterations and many more “out of the box” ideas than if one person had controlled the mouse on a PC. Someone could grab a machine and say “what about this?” and just move it.

    We also “started from scratch” many times, after taking a digital photo of what we had done on paper.

    We then sometimes combined the paper method with PC…. putting the digital photo up on the project and physically drawing the material and technician flows (we had a whiteboard for a screen).

    Anyone, my point is that I think you’re dead on… that process you use can work on a design or re-design.


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