Yakima County Development Association - Lean Manufacturing Success Starts at the Top

Jonathan Smith

The President’s Pen is a weekly blog written by Jonathan Smith, New Vision’s President and CEO about local economic development projects and initiatives. It also covers economic trends, workforce issues, business climate policies, and manufacturing news. 



Lean Manufacturing Success Starts at the Top

April 26, 2011

Last week I was fortunate to sit in on a half day lean manufacturing seminar at Shields Bag and Printing in Yakima. The company is a fourth generation family owned business that makes flexible packaging for customers around the world. I was very impressed with the seminar and found that Shields introduces all its new employees to lean manufacturing within their first few months on the job.

I was even more impressed that the owner and almost every top manager helped teach parts of the seminar. This leadership team clearly explained why the company made a commitment to lean, the company goals they were trying to achieve, and how the employees could help meet these objectives. This overview from the top people at Shields was extraordinary and a key factor behind the company's initial success with lean manufacturing.

Our office has helped over 70 local companies get oriented to lean manufacturing through similar seminars. Quite a few of these businesses have gone on to implement lean projects at their plants. To be honest though I do not think many of the companies we have worked with loaded their own goals into the lean process itself.

Without setting initial goals at the management level, lean can become a journey without a compass. Companies will find efficiencies, eliminate waste and generally benefit from lean projects at their facilities. At the same time though, companies may not see and actualize bigger benefits if they do not drive the lean process towards bigger picture goals like sales growth, profitability, and improving safety.

A few months ago Don Carrell at Shields told me that it will take a couple more years before the company creates a lean culture at their plant. Empowering the workforce to take charge of equipment and processes does not happen overnight. Getting everyone in a company on the same page regarding the lean discipline takes time.

We are quite pleased that many of our local companies have at least been introduced to lean manufacturing and lean office processes. Now we hope that some of these companies can go further with lean and become truly world class business enterprises. Shields is on the right track and creating a productive trail for others to follow in the Yakima Valley.

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"If you want to move it, store it or source it - Yakima's central location can't be beat in the Pacific Northwest." - Ken Marble, President, Horizon Distribution