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There is a common misconception that Lean is free. The truth is the making improvements requires a variety of resources. That’s not to say you have to spend a lot of money to make changes, but every project does require an investment.

In fact that is one of the big challenges of Lean in particular management in general. There is a finite amount of resources available and a practically limitless way to spend them. The individuals and companies that are able to use those resources with the biggest return are the ones that will thrive.

Some of the resources required to develop a continuous improvement culture include:

  • People Time: By far the largest expense you will have in continuous improvement is salary. Whether it is a key leader working on policy deployment or a front-line employee participating in a kaizen event, you have to commit significant worker time to making big gains. This gets even more expensive if it is primarily overtime. When creating a staffing plan, make sure to budget time to work on Lean efforts.
  • Calendar Time: There is another aspect of time in addition to that of workers’ hours. Projects often have a variety of waiting associated with them. Whether it is standing by to get into a queue or while waiting for an item to be delivered, the clock is always ticking. Every minute you wait to get started on something is a minute further behind your company will be. Keep in mind that the competition is also working to get ahead. Another important point is that calendar time is finite. People time is not. If you need a thousand more hours of worker time, you can always hire another person. If you have a deadline of July 1, you cannot buy extra time in June.
  • Money: There’s the old saying, “It takes money to make money.” This holds true in continuous improvement. The difference, though, is that Mr. Pareto teaches us how to get the most out of the money that we spend. We also learn that we can often create our own tools cheaper than we can buy them off-the-shelf. While this is not always the case, it is a good idea to look to creativity first and a catalog second.
  • Materials: Continuous improvement teams often have a variety of materials needs such as Velcro labels and the like. While these, of course, cost money, they are often stocked for project teams to use.
  • Equipment: Project teams frequently come up with ideas that require the use of a variety of types of equipment to bring to life. Some of this equipment is used in production. Some might be used by the maintenance or facilities teams. Regardless of the source, using equipment for one purpose precludes it from being used for something else. The cost of these resources is amplified if the piece of equipment is in high demand.
  • Energy: Among the least measurable resources is energy. People have a natural cycle and how focused they can stay. If they are always running at 100 miles an hour, they will burn out. Leaders have to manage how hard they push their teams so that there is capacity left to go the extra mile when needed. Simply put, if the typical mode is crisis mode, teams will not have any energy left to tap into when things go from bad to worse.

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