What to Expect from Lean Manufacturing Consultants

How to select and use consultants is awkward for consultants to discuss, but it came up in a discussion started by Rey Elbo in the TPS Principles and Practice group on LinkedIn. On this topic, we can always quote third parties and, some years ago, I found the following strip in the pages of the Japanese monthly Kojo Kanri (工場管理, or “Factory Management”):

How to choose and use lean consultants

I understand that some of these recommendations may be surprising, and here are a few explanations from the body of the article:

  1. Do not hire cheap consultants, anymore than you would a cheap surgeon or a cheap lawyer.
  2. Use consultants who talk drills and wrenches and drills  rather than bar and pie charts. There is room in lean manufacturing for analysis resulting in charts, but mostly upfront, in setting a plan with top management, but 95% of the work involves the nitty-gritty details of shop floor life.
  3. Treat the consultant like a god. Follow recommendations rigorously and without challenging them.Defensiveness is self-defeating. If you don’t trust a consultant, replace him or her.
  4. The consultants should not do anything. For skills to take root in the organization, the work needs to be done by in-house personnel. This is the distinction between consulting and engineering services, and the idea is that Lean skills need to be permanently in the company.
  5. Get everything you can from the consultant in terms of ideas and recommendations. Pick the consultant’s brain relentlessly. If it takes being on the shop floor during the night shift, so be it.