Close the Gap on Lean Initiatives - 4Ward Solutions Group - Modular Commercial Building Construction Consulting
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Close the Gap on Lean Initiatives - 4Ward Solutions Group - Modular Commercial Building Construction Consulting


By Ben Hershey, CEO, 4Ward Consulting Group, LLC

 When I’m asked why I chose a set of puzzle pieces for the 4Ward Consulting team logo, I’m glad to explain that fitting the pieces together has always been a part of my approach to business, my own and those I have assisted.  We have teams, divisions, branches, departments, etc. throughout our organizations that all must come together in the right way to provide success for our customers and company.  I was reminded of this outlook recently during a message my Pastor was giving on closing the gap in those areas of our lives where we have improvement opportunities.  The same is true of our operations.

Like puzzle pieces, each of the areas of our businesses—teams, divisions, branches, departments, and more—need to be dusted off or honed to see where they fit into the operation. Each piece can be turned, repositioned, and then placed into the larger puzzle where they close the gap perfectly with the other areas of our companies.  Sometimes though, we have to hunt for that missing piece to close a gap.  I hope you can relate; I remember putting puzzles together with my Dad and brothers and having the occasional missing piece.  Sometimes areas of our companies seem like that missing puzzle piece and it can be frustrating.  Sometimes those gaps or missing pieces damage our company, but it’s how we glue those pieces back together that makes us strongerEven when we take the puzzle apart, shuffle the pieces, and bring them back together, we will have improved them and closed the gap to complete the picture.

 When companies undertake lean initiatives,  one key element that leads to failure or non-completion is a lack of follow-through on those gaps. Full implementation of project objectives, 5(6) S programs, Kaizen events, etc. depends on all of its puzzle pieces, not just the easiest or most obvious.  A simple example occurs when supervisors start having a shift huddle/scrum which runs effectively for several days, but as soon as you have your eyes off of the process the huddle gets sloppy, information is not shared or communicated, and objectives are lost.  One term for this is mission/initiative creep—a gradual shift in objectives during the course of a campaign, often resulting in an unplanned long-term commitment.

So how can you fit the pieces together in the way that it will not fall apart again or have gaps?  Think about putting a jigsaw puzzle together as you consider these tips on putting your lean initiatives back on track!

Closing the Gap

  1. STOP and assess the pieces (process, departments, work cells, etc.) and determine what are the good pieces and what are the ones that don’t need to go back in.  You can do this through value mapping as a quick means of determining those areas that should be addressed.  This is a great time to lose those useless pieces, those things that cause delays/frustrations, quality issues, etc. and don’t add to the overall picture of what you need to accomplish to become more efficient. 
  2. Determine what the easiest pieces are to put together and put them together first…like corner pieces/edge pieces of a puzzle.  These are your core areas/processes—the vital things that make your company stand out from the competition! 
  3. Look at the completed picture and start assembling the pieces together (closing the gap).  It is so much easier if you have something to look at to fit the pieces together, just like the picture on a puzzle box. Set attainable goals, determine your plan, write it down, and find pictures of what you see the outcome of your puzzle will be.  Pictures are a great way to communicate your desired state because many of our employees are visually taught.
  4. Identify the current state of the department.  If your design team needs to increase output by 25% and it is currently growing at 6% a year, the current state is 6% growth.  Organizations can have multiple current states and it is possible to perform a gap analysis on all of them.
  5. Identify the desired state of the department so that you know your future target and goal for the organization.  To accomplish this, it is necessary to think about the present performance in the current state.  Then you can identify where you want to be after a specific timeframe. Consider targets over three to five months (years) and consider the current state areas. You could even chart out the future targets and compare them easily with the current state.
  6. Identify the gaps within the process/work cell/department after you see the current state. When you can see the gaps, you can proceed to bridge the gap between actual and desired states.  Dig deeper to find out why the gap has occurred.  Keep communicating while you’re identifying the gap, and work directly with your team to ask some questions and find answers that make the root causes of gaps clear.
  7. Formulate improvements to close the identified gaps.  Once you find out why there are gaps in the department, it is the time to figure out the appropriate course of action to close them.  The first tip to make this possible is to base all of your improvement plans on the information found while identifying the gaps.  The next thing to consider is the cost to implement the solutions. Then you can then identify or decide on the end dates by which you would want the gaps to be resolved.
  8. Prioritize the gaps.  This step is optional, but it makes sense to prioritize the gaps identified so that you tackle the ones you think require the highest priority.  You could also prioritize in a way where you focus on the ‘quick wins’ and focus on the smaller gaps first, before working your way to the larger ones.  We all ask “where is the low hanging fruit”, but do your teams follow through to make sure they are picking the fruit (so to say)?  Like my example earlier of huddles where the purpose creeps, keep your focus and make sure the huddle is informative, interactive, etc. 

Although the way your organization implements its processes may change frequently, the basic capabilities are likely to remain stable over time. When you identify the fundamentals, then it’s even easier to identify the gaps. Using these tools to find your gaps can promote a strong relationship between the business model you want and the various processes your business/manufacturing requires. The 4Ward Consulting Group team has helped several hundred operations increase efficiency and profitability.  If we can be of assistance to you and your team, please give us a call.

 Ben Hershey is CEO of the 4Ward Consulting Group, LLC team.  When the industry needs an actual expert, they turn to 4Ward Consulting Group.  4Ward Consulting Group isthe leading provider of Management and Manufacturing Consulting to the Structural Component and Lumber Industry. A Past President of SBCA, Ben has owned and managed several manufacturing and distribution companies and is Six Sigma Black Belt Certified. Ben has provided consulting to hundreds of Component Manufacturers, Lumber Dealers, and Millwork Operations in the past seven years.  You can reach Ben at or 623-512-6770.

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