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Creating a Lean, Mean Distribution Machine, Part II

Creating a Lean, Mean Distribution Machine, Part II

In Part I of this series, we discussed why it’s time to get rid of those age-old processes and “ways of doing things” and turn your distributorship into a lean organization. Read below to see how to get employees on board, excited, and ready to carry out your distributorship’s new commitment to becoming “lean.”


Most people reject “simple” because it smacks them in the face when they refuse to take action. “If you add complexity to anything it slows action down, muddles the path forward, and will flummox the brightest minds,” says Paul Akers, president at FastCap in Ferndale, Wash., and author of 2 Second Lean. But this shouldn’t stop electrical distributors from adopting the lean philosophies and practices that many other companies are already benefitting from. In fact, Akers says it should push distributors to want to make changes to their “age old” processes and mindsets.

The question is, how can distributors institute lean practices in a way that truly engages employees, and that doesn’t just send them off grumbling and complaining about the proposed changes? Akers says the answer lies in the training and teaching that companies provide during the early stages of going lean—and then the subsequent support that they provide on a daily basis long after the initiative has been put into gear.

“Start every day with a morning meeting,” says Akers, whose firm allocates 30-45 minutes per day to this gathering. Here’s what the minute-by-minute agenda looks like:

  • 7:30-7:55 Leader preps for the meeting
  • 7:55 Leader announces over intercom and walkie-talkie that it’s “5 minutes until the morning meeting”
  • 8:00 Good morning FastCap!
  • 8:01 Announce tomorrow’s meeting leader
  • 8:02 Sales numbers
  • 8:03 Mistakes and discussion
  • 8:10 Raving fans
  • 8:15 Product review
  • 8:20 Improvement
  • 8:25 FastCap principles
  • 8:30 History and enrichment
  • 8:35 Constitution
  • 8:40 Stretching
  • 8:45 Back to work

Noting that times are approximate, Akers says the morning meeting generally takes 30 minutes, but can take up to an hour depending on subjects and issues of the day. He says the gathering takes place every day, without fail. “We don’t ever miss it because it’s the most important way we build our culture,” says Akers, who adds that in the early stages of his company’s transition to lean, those morning meetings were just five minutes long. “We recommend that distributors start the same way and make the meeting sustainable over time.”


It’s Time to “5S” Your Facility

One way of the best ways to kick off a lean initiative is by following the “5S” principles, which according to the Kaizen Institute are:

  1. Sort: Sort out and separate that which is needed and not needed in the area.
  2. Straighten: Arrange items that are needed so that they are ready and easy to use. Clearly identify locations for all items so that anyone can find them and return them once the task is completed.
  3. Shine: Clean the workplace and equipment on a regular basis in order to maintain standards and identify defects.
  4. Standardize: Revisit the first three of the 5S on a frequent basis.
  5. Sustain: Keep to the rules to maintain the standard and continue to improve every day.

Akers says distributors that are just starting out can simplify this list by focusing on three basic tasks: sweeping, sorting, and standardizing. “Your facility should be immaculate,” he notes. “There should not be one thing out of place, so sweep, sort, and standardize the entire company every day for a minimum of 15 minutes.”

As part of this effort, Akers says all staff members should be on the lookout for areas that aren’t up to snuff, that look messy or disorganized, or that are creating redundant work. “It could be as easy as hanging a broom up instead of throwing it into the corner, or putting shipping labels into colored bins that everyone recognizes and works from,” says Aker. “Even just one or two small improvements per day will add up to hundreds or thousands of lean steps over the course of a year.”


What’s in it For Us?

Much like dieting to get “lean,” takes a lot of work and commitment, creating a lean organization requires dedication and a long-term pledge to eradicating waste from every corner of your distributorship. The good news is that there are some clear benefits from adopting the lean mindset, not the least of which is an organization where every step taken by every employee contributes to the greater good.

“One of the biggest benefits of lean is a healthy organization,” says Akers, “whereas companies that don’t use it operate in a state of dysfunction. So, if you like pulling your hair out and wearing a firefighter’s hat—instead of a CEO’s hat—then knock yourself out. Do things the way you’ve always done them.”

To leaders that want to break out of the fire-fighting mode and adopt lean principles, Akers says the first step is an easy one: Get out from behind your desk and out of your office. “Lock your door behind you and get out onto the warehouse floor or into your store for at least 10% of your work day,” he says. “Uncover all of the pain and frustration that’s going on out there and find ways to help your people work better.”




8 Ways to Kick Off a Lean Culture

To help companies supercharge their lean cultures and ensure a long-term commitment to the process, Paul Aker offers these steps that any company can use, listed by order of importance. It’s important to note that lean shouldn’t be a “one and done” attempt, and that such initiatives should be reviewed and honed on a regular basis to ensure their long-term viability.

“If your culture lacks energy and power,” he says, “go back to step one and repeat until you experience nuclear fusion.” (You can read the complete list of 11 recommendations in Aker’s book, 2 Second Lean.)

  • The CEO or president must embrace lean personally and not delegate it to the team to implement.
  • Meet regularly as a team, preferably once a day, to address issues, talk about improvements and problems, and teach lean principles.
  • Learn and teach the eight wastes (see Part I of this article series).
  • Make simple before and after videos of all your improvements. “Start a YouTube channel and the concept will spread like wildfire through your organization,” Akers says.
  • Never point to somebody else and say, “Look at all their waste.” Always point at yourself.
  • Can’t find something to improve? Simply fix what bugs you.
  • Where should you start? Look for anywhere work is stopped. “Work should never stop,” he says, “it should always flow.”
  • Should you hire a consultant? “The answer is ‘Hell no!’” Akers says. “If you do hire a consultant, it will guarantee your dependence on someone else.”


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Bridget McCrea  is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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