The Benefits of Lean Manufacturing

An overview of the training, implementation, and management to better understand your suppliers lean manufacturing capabilities and SWOT (strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis.

The term “lean manufacturing” comes from the Toyota Production System (TPS); Today, there are many types and theories when it comes to “lean” that vary from Six Sigma (White Belt, Yellow Belt, Green Belt, Black Belt, Master Black Belt), Hoshin or Kaizen initiatives, philosophies, training programs, and certificates.    

Supply Chain

Finding, securing, and managing suppliers who understand the benefits, and having the infrastructure to support and manage lean manufacturing are few and far between. 

Many suppliers and factories are less than 25 years old and immersed in the daily operations and order demands; They do not have time to focus on lean improvements to their operation.  They may have good intentions, but they don’t understand the full scope for implementation and management.  

It’s up to the buyer to drive the lean process for the benefit of their brand and organization to help improve quality, deliveries and reduce costs.  

I know of only one large international buyer that has a dedicated team that focuses on adding value to their supply chain through lean training; tracks the vendor performance before and after; shows the end results to the factory. Then they split the savings with a win/win for both parties.  

Some of the common challenges with factories today are:


  • Inexperience
  • Overcapacity
  • Too often being reactive to problems instead of being proactive
  • Inexperienced staff or shortage of staff to keep up with growth demands
  • “We can make anything attitude”; I always get nervous when a supplier utter these words as it means they do not know their strengths and weaknesses
  • Greed, taking orders beyond their fulfillment abilities
  • Order delays; huge planning issue and hiccup in the supply chain
  • Outsourcing, getting outside help to make the production

Training, the necessary steps

How do you manage and monitor lean manufacturing from a distance to over 25, 100, 250 or 500, or more suppliers or factories?

One of the first steps of lean manufacturing is having staff engaged who understand the lean process and the importance of lean training; Lean staff does not always mean fewer people but means people who have the right training to improve productivity, performance and output.

Before you start training; it is always best to have established compliance standards, systems, policies, procedures, processes, manuals, analytics and management systems in place.

“Your standards are not their standards”; Lean knowledge, to educate, train, implement, manage, and record performance measures. 

Continuous Training

The value you provide may not be recognized immediately but in the long-term everyone involved will be thankful and appreciative.  The necessities of lean knowledge, to educate, train, implement and manage change for the better of all mankind.

The ultimate goal your product will be better, quicker, faster and stronger at the right factories for the right production that will reduce your headaches and improve your ROI.  Which will make happier buyers, suppliers, and staff (internal/external) globally.

During the training it is important to repeat, repeat, repeat and then the following week and month repeat again; until you see that it is engrained in their daily activities; even then you need to continue to repeat, as new staff will continually be added to the factory floor and staff will return to old patterns/habits as its comfortable and familiar.

From this discovery process of training, you will better understand th suppliers strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  You will be able to allocate and manage your products better with greater success, fewer headaches, and assurance the product will be made right the first time.

Major Factors

Some major factors to be aware of:

  • Every supplier/factory has a much different need so you need to be adaptable.
  • In addition, you need to be flexible based on their cultural differences
  • China has 56 different ethnic groups with 65 different dialects; each region has a different culture, belief, and business ethics; this needs to be taken into consideration with the first step of training
  • It is a proven fact that 30% of Chinese cannot speak Putonghua and that only 10% can communicate fluently
  • Verbal communication, you need to speak their language.  This does not mean you speak their local dialect or country language but have patience and consideration in training
  • Just because they speak English does not mean they understand English to the same level as you, a lot of information is lost in translation, and it is easier to say I understand than discuss and pretend to understand for another 30 minutes
  • Written communication, it changes with dialect, traditional (Cantonese) is not the same as simplified (Putonghua) written.  You need to ensure you are writing the correct language if you share documentation


It is best to have the right experienced people and proven support systems in place before you start “Lean” training.  Some of the specific needs for success are but not limited to systems, policies, procedures, and manuals; that equal happiness, fewer headaches, increased revenue, and ROI for all involved.

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