A Lean, Sign-Making Machine


    Century Sign Builders is a Lean, green machine – MSNBC.com

    Here is a nice case study news story about a small sign making company that has used Lean, working with the New Mexico MEP program, to help grow their business.

    The goal, Meyers says, was to increase production capacity and boost annual sales to $5 million.

    It's much better to use Lean to grow instead of having to rely on layoffs for cost savings. That's a topic that has been beaten into the ground on this blog, but it's worth repeating.

    Some examples of their Lean progress, include (with details in the article):

    • Mapped the process and laid out the new factory for flow
    • Kept inventory closer to point of use
    • Used visual methods for inventory (reducing production interruptions)
    • Began cross training to improve production flexibility
    • Writing production manuals

    One thing I have to question about their approach is the focus on manuals. “Standard Work” is not just a matter of writing production manuals. Standard Work is an ongoing management process.

    There is a $1,000 bonus for anyone who can demonstrate that he or she can do someone else's job for a week. The person who writes a manual for his or her job and trains someone else can also earn $1,000.

    I'd be a bit wary of bonuses… would that lead to competition among the employees? What does that mean “can do someone else's job for a week?” Would quality suffer if somebody hasn't been fully trained? Has your company ever put in financial incentives for cross-training? I've seen companies increase pay rates for employees who are the most cross-trained, but never something like a $1,000 bonus.

    Either way, they are getting results:

    Mistakes caught by clients have been drastically reduced, she says, because now many different people can say whether a sign passes a quality test, not just one. On-time delivery has jumped from 60 percent to about 98 percent.

    Once again, it's the small companies that are providing great Lean success stories.

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. Mark,

      You raise a good point about the potential downside of the $1000 bonus. However, until we have evidence to the contrary, I prefer to think of the $1000 as a savvy adaptation of Lean to the needs of the US worker.

      In its US operations, Toyota avoids berating workers publicly as part of “hansei,” even though there’s a tradition of just that sort of public shaming in their Japanese factories. The management is smart enough to realize that humiliation won’t fly here.

      In a similar fashion, American workers tend to be more motivated by money than Japanese workers. This isn’t the forum to discuss why money is less of a driver (traditionally) for Japanese employees, but given that money is more important here, adding the $1000 bonus is a canny way of aligning Lean needs with employee incentives.

      So far, the experiment seems to be working. I say, more power to management for putting its money where its mouth is. The Lean journey is long and challenging. The more ways we can invent to drive the process forward and inject Lean values into the DNA of the employees, the greater the likelihood of success.


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