Effective communication is key to all we do, personally, socially, and in business. While everyone involved in developing lean processes knows effective communication is important, lack of communication or miscommunications happens during implementation.
The result is a more chaotic change process and, often, failure, either wholly or partially.
Here is why more than just about any other aspect of lean manufacturing, focusing on and emphasizing improvement in communications is vital to your success.
When you communicate effectively, your margin of error gets reduced and, in some cases, even eliminated. It is one reason Noise Reduction Ratings (NRR) have become front and center in the manufacturing processes.
What is NRR? It is the gauge by which you can ascertain how loud your factory floor is at any given moment from any place on the floor. Loud noise levels can damage hearing but, equally as importantly, can obscure directions.
When implementing lean manufacturing processes, your employees hearing your directions in meetings and on the floor is vital. If they cannot hear you because your communications processes have broken down, employees will make assumptions that are often close to the desired goal but not all the way there.
Effective communication goes beyond merely physically hearing you, however. Equally important is your employees understanding what you communicate. Understanding your goals, how you want lean manufacturing processes implemented, and why you want them done a certain way is the only way to build support.
While some people handle it better than others, virtually no one wants to be “ordered” to follow a process or implement a new procedure. If you can show them why it is needed and how it benefits them, and the overall manufacturing process, your chances of getting them on board with your plans will increase dramatically.
Think back to the last time you had a disagreement at work, home, or anywhere else. Chances are better than average that the disagreement came down to miscommunications. Sure, some arguments are profound differences of opinion. The majority, however, come down to one or the other party:
- Misunderstanding the intent, goals, and plans of the other person
- Misinterpreting the motives of the other person
- Miscomprehending implementation plans
If communications were more transparent, all three of those issues would disappear. You might still disagree with a decision or process, but you could do so from the vantage of knowing you had the complete picture.
Communication plays a significant role in avoiding or mitigating risks. Risk avoidance includes safety and production risks. If you communicate effectively with your subordinates, for example, you will better anticipate delays in a production cycle and address them before they become a crisis.
Process and Environmental Improvements
Vitally, your employees can inform each other of the “on-the-ground” environment, which lets them better prepare for what they will face. The best example is the classic lack of communication between shifts of workers. How often have you heard, “I wish they had told me about this issue”?
From restaurants to assembly lines, that refrain is probably more common than “I can’t wait until the weekend.” Its importance is enhanced when implementing or perfecting lean manufacturing processes. A major part of successful implementation is knowing what others are encountering and how they handle those interactions.
Reducing Safety Risks
Process improvements are not the only aspect of manufacturing that benefits from clear and easily understood communications. Physical safety is also improved, which reduces the risk of injury and helps employees avoid risky situations and environments. That benign “Caution: Wet Floor” is about as basic and as effective a communication tool as exists.
That translates into every other aspect of manufacturing safety. Communicate emergency responses effectively, and you will not have an issue when your employees face an emergency. Outline a safety risk with a piece of machinery, and, with proper reinforcement, the risk of employee injury is reduced or eliminated.
It is accepted that employees who understand an initiative and support the effort work more cohesively as a team. Teams unify because effective communication gives employees (as well as management and the company as a whole) a common goal and an accepted roadmap of how to achieve that goal.
Employees that are all on the same page coordinate more effectively. They also identify challenges and how to address them more quickly than if everyone is off doing their own thing. Most importantly, employees working together more easily identify further improvement opportunities and avoid repeating mistakes in implementation.
For example, if you are introducing a new lean Quality Assurance process to three shifts of workers, it is a given that each shift will interpret the new process slightly differently. One group of employees will think it is okay to be more lenient in one area, while another group will insist on being more stringent in that area.
That type of conflict reduces the effectiveness of the change and delays proper implementation, regardless of which way you want a process implemented. Getting those groups of employees to discuss the process, however, is an easy way of getting everyone to agree on one approach as well as helping you as a manager recognize potential flashpoints among employees.
Enhances Training Processes
The only way your employees will learn new lean processes is if your training programs are easy to absorb and the lessons are easy to implement. Proper communications make achieving those two goals possible. If your training is randomly implemented, based on the whims of a specific trainer, you may get the right approach, or you may not.
Training programs that are clear, concise, and easy to understand vastly improve what is learned and avoid mistakes or bad assumptions. Poor communication in training leads to gaps and employees jumping to conclusions that may not be accurate. When the lesson taught is a new process, a bad conclusion can eliminate any benefit the new process possesses.
As each of these examples indicates, clear communication is vital to manufacturing, particularly when implementing change. Having every employee on the same page and working in unison is the only way the process will be successfully implemented. Clear communication is the only way you have a chance of getting everyone on the same page.