Every year professionals, practitioners and leaders within the Lean community come together at the Lean Summit–hosted by the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI)—to discuss, reflect and learn how to successfully implement Lean concepts to their businesses. The summit attracts attendees from across the globe and spans a diverse spectrum of industries. This is a great opportunity to witness the different ways in which Lean thinking can be applied, in addition to hearing the success stories, setbacks and moments of reflection from other Lean practitioners. This year Viwinco General Manager Mike Duncan Jr. and our Model Line Supervisor Travis Kleweic were invited to be part of a panel for one of the summit seminars regarding the development of organizational capabilities. Although Viwinco is still new to Lean implementation, we witnessed some impressive progress during our past kaizen events. This seminar allowed us to share our experiences with an audience that is either new to Lean or looking to implement it in their business.
What is Lean and Why is it Important?
Lean is a philosophy and methodology with an emphasis on the relentless pursuit of waste reduction, efficiency and continuous improvement. While it originated in the manufacturing industry, Lean has since been adapted by various industries including: software development, healthcare, logistics, construction, education and service. One of the core components of Lean is the reduction of the seven types of waste: overproduction, waiting, conveyance, processing, inventory, motion and correction. By identifying the different kinds of work—value–added, incidental and waste—we can eliminate waste while improving upon the value-added work or the work necessary for making a product/ work the customer is willing to pay for. When practiced and applied effectively, Lean methodology can transform the way a company operates, by creating a culture of problem solvers, while increasing efficiency and as a result profitability.
Lean Enterprise Institute
The Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) is a non-profit organization based in Boston, MA, whose mission is to improve things by advancing Lean thinking and practice. Founded in 1997 by James P. Womack, Ph.D. LEI is the leader in Lean education. The institute provides several resources and tools to foster organizational efficiency, eliminate waste and promote a culture of continuous improvement across many industries. Some of the services provided by LEI include: publications, workshops, training programs, and consulting services. They work alongside industry experts, thought leaders, and practitioners to continuously refine and expand upon Lean thinking.
Viwinco and the Lean Enterprise Institute
During the opening keynote for the 2023 Lean Summit, LEI President and CEO Josh Howell described his journey with Lean and how he developed a career with LEI. Josh discussed how Lean found him at a time when he needed it most and went on to describe the profound impact it had on shaping his career. Josh’s story was one that resonated with Viwinco as well.
The partnership between Viwinco and the Lean Enterprise Institute predates COVID-19. At the time, we were beginning construction on our new glass facility, experiencing significant growth in demand, and identified the need to improve our internal efficiencies. In the beginning, we had some initial calls with LEI to discuss our business, current state and goals for the future. This quickly turned to visits from our Lean Coaches, followed by our first onsite Kaizen event on what we identified to be our “model line.” As we began to witness some initial successes, and overwhelming buy–in from our team, we sought to enter a full-blown partnership with LEI to further our Lean implementation and employee education. At the recent Lean Summit in March 2023, we were invited to lead a seminar discussing our experience with Lean implementation.
The Summit in Tucson, Arizona
Hosted in Tucson, Arizona, this was LEI’s 25th annual Lean Summit. This year’s summit attracted over 350 attendees, from 138 organizations, from various industries across the world. The two-day event opened on Wednesday with a warm welcome from the LEI team, and an opening keynote from Josh Howell detailing his history and experience working with Lean and the transformative power it can have on one’s career. Josh’s keynote was then followed up by a keynote from Dr. Susan Ehrlich, CEO of the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital discussing Lean applications in the healthcare industry.
After the keynotes concluded, the audience took a short break before the two (1.5hr) learning sessions began. There was a total of seven different learning sessions in both the A.M. and P.M. portions of the day. The topics ranged from using data to understand customer value, to developing organizational capability and evaluating automated systems and operations. After the two sessions were concluded, we returned to the main conference room where a panel consisting of Josh Howell, Jim Benson, Lex Schroeder, and Noelle Thomas O’Neal led a discussion on the next generation of Lean thinking in respect to the tech sector. This concluded the Summit for day one.
Although we were unable to attend the summit on day two, the agenda followed a similar format. The day opened with two keynotes, one from CAT, the other from Sysco. Afterwards the audience broke out for a series of learning sessions, ending the day with a closing keynote panel and final remarks to conclude the summit.
Mike and Travis Present
Viwinco was invited to the summit as speakers for a session titled: Understanding the Interdependent Roles of Operations and HR – Developing Organizational Capability. Much of the discussions revolved around what it was like to start implementing Lean thinking and how to overcome some of the common obstacles. This session was led by Karen Gaudet (LEI) and included Mike Duncan Jr. (General Manager – Viwinco), Travis Klewiec (Line 1 Supervisor – Viwinco), and Jill Miller (MillerKnoll). Whereas Viwinco began its Lean journey a few years ago, MillerKnoll has been applying Lean since 1995. Since many of the attendees for the two seminars were new to Lean thinking, considering applying Lean to their business, or having recently applied Lean, the experience and viewpoints shared by both companies were invaluable.
Mike and Travis’ combined experience and perspectives provided valuable insight into fostering a culture of continuous improvements and building upon organizational capabilities. Michael’s insight was important for understanding how we aligned our organization’s goals, developed leadership capabilities and cultivated a learning environment. When asked how we chose to implement Lean, Michael stated “We always had a Lean business model, but we did not have the processes in place to support it”. One of our biggest challenges at the start, was the Lack of Lean knowledge and understanding. “We needed to develop a Lean mindset and develop our people. At the start, we did not have the skills or support in place. I needed to identify ways to facilitate and support employee growth and development” stated Michael. We managed this were by instituting a Train the Trainer program, incorporating various departments in our kaizen events and establishing core tenets tied to our company goals and Lean thinking.
Since Travis’ department (Line 1) was identified as our model line, it has been the focus for the majority of our kaizen events. Because of this, Travis was able to provide real–life examples of how this process has empowered him and his team and discussed the hurdles he experienced when first implementing Lean in his area. In the beginning, Travis stated, “We were always working like a bulldozer. Pushing and pushing product just to get it out the door”. Now the mindsets have shifted significantly. The team is now more mindful of waste and continuously looks for ways to improve the process. Travis’ mindset has changed along with his team to where he is more focused on supporting the value-added work. “I am more active in giving power to their voice, hearing their feedback and supporting what they need to do their work” he states.
In addition to Mike and Travis sharing their experiences and perspectives, we also shared a testimonial video of one of our Line 1 Leads Marlenny. She stated “My thought process and how I approach my role has changed since when I first started as a Lead. I thought I couldn’t achieve this. It was too much responsibility and too many people to lead. But after we started implementing Lean I feel good and comfortable with how we do things.” Marlenny also describes seeing a shift in attitude from her team, mentioning that there is much more collaboration between team members. “In the past, each operator focused on their own task. Not anymore, we are a team now” she mentioned. Marlenny, now leads our Spanish speaking Train the Trainer class to educate the newer employees on Lean thinking and the benefits it can provide.
Along with their testimonies, the team also discussed one of the ways in which we cultivate a Lean-centric culture at Viwinco, which is through our “Wins of the Week” program. Every week we ask our employees to submit their achievements, completed projects or exciting things they were a part of through the week. Our Marketing and Human Resources departments then work together to compile and translate these updates and put them into slides to be emailed to employees and shared on monitors throughout the company. In addition to the updates, we also define common Lean terminology we use to develop a Lean vocabulary throughout the company. Since many of our employees are Spanish-speaking, we make sure to translate the slides so the information can be understood by everyone. We posted copies of our wins throughout the conference room to share our ideas with our attendees.
Networking/ Brainstorming Events
As the seminars concluded on the first day of the summit, some of the presenters and members from LEI were invited to a brainstorming event. The event aimed to discuss the co-learning partnerships with LEI and give feedback on how to improve the program. After the brainstorming event, guests were invited outside on the lawn for a catered networking portion of the night. Here, guests were able to meet with other like-minded professionals from different industries to discuss Lean thinking, best practices, and success stories. Not only did we have a chance to meet some amazing people here, but we also had time to reflect on the day and meet with attendees from our earlier seminars.
Closing/ Looking Forward with Lean
Lean implementation looks different for every company and no two journeys are alike. We are grateful for our opportunity to share our Lean journey with everyone who attended our seminars. Regarding the concept of continuous improvement, Lean implementation is an ongoing, never-ending process. Although we are approximately three years into our Lean journey, we are still considering ourselves new to Lean. While we have already done a lot of work, there is still extensive room for improvement.
We look forward to furthering our Lean implementation with the help of our Lean Coaches and are excited to see the progress we make over the next few years! We appreciate the opportunity to share our experiences with the Lean community at the summit and look forward to next year’s summit in Carlsbad, California in March.