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One Size Does Not Fit All

Requests for me to share the Onex story as well as mentor colleagues in the industry are becoming more frequent. While I am more than happy to share our story, I also want to point out “One size does not fit all” especially when it comes to Lean manufacturing.

Most recently, the request was from Richard Wiltse for me to sit on a Lean panel for the Association for Manufacturing Excellence consortia in Ohio. When I first received the request, I thought “You have the wrong person.” Here at Onex we are not implementing Lean as Toyota does and I said as much to Wiltse. He ensured me that each company has their own formula for Lean and there is no right or wrong way.

How did our Lean journey begin? One value stream mapping event where our production personnel did a spaghetti diagram of all their movement in a production process. Boy was it eye opening! My production manager was averaging 20,000 steps a day. While that might be great for weight loss, it is a terrible waste of motion. In the end, we reduced the movement of the product by seven (7) steps but more importantly, we also decided to move the entire operation to a more efficient building. The outcome was reduced overhead costs and a more productive, efficient operation.

Lean: “The Onex Way”

Continuous Improvement Everyday

In Paul Akers book, 2 Second Lean, Akers breaks down Lean into one simple question “What Bugs You?” I asked similar questions of Onex personnel as we began our Lean journey in 2014. “What takes up most of your time? What do you find frustrating?” With each response, we worked to reduce waste and non-value added steps. The key point is to allow the person closet to the problem to suggest the solution and implement it quickly. In cases where the process cannot be changed, communicate why the change is not possible.

Lean is a Journey Not an Event

The hardest part of Lean is sustaining the change. You cannot change a culture with Lean events. Lean must become part of your culture. At Onex, it is everyone’s job to improve from CEO to production floor. We not only work to improve our processes…we work to improve our clients’ processes. Why? Because manufacturing is the backbone of our communities and we want to ensure that we do our part to keep small town USA alive and thriving.

Growing People

Akers points out in his book that “Lean is about growing people.” I have always said “My engineering degree taught me how to think.” By that I mean, I can solve any problem because there are a series of steps in a problem-solving process. Kata teaches us to analyze the current situation, define a target condition and experiment changing one variable at a time documenting the expected outcome as well as the actual outcome. The key is to experiment quickly. Fail fast! Move on. Not every idea will be successful but without small failures you are not learning. Be an organization that is alright with making mistakes. My motto is “You learn more from your failures than your successes. Just don’t make the same mistake twice.”

Wildly Important Goals

Set a Wildly Important Goal (WIG) for the organization but don’t give them a roadmap. I was once asked to write a manufacturing plan as part of my yearly goals. Instead of writing the plan, I physically moved the entire operation in 2016 because I could see how inefficient our operations were and the payback on the move was a no-brainer. At my annual review, I lost significant points for not “writing a plan.” For the following year, I asked that the board of directors to not provide me a roadmap but provide high level goals and let me figure out the best way to attain them. At quarterly meetings, I would report my progress and plans for the future. If at any time the board felt my plan was not sound or my progress was no sufficient, they could intervene. 

As an organization, we had an incredibly successful year because we all did our part to work towards high level goals and did not silo ourselves with departmental goals. We worked as cross-functional teams. My advice…Don’t write roadmaps. Encourage people to think creatively and be nimble. It is less stressful for everyone and the results will be better than you can imagine…I promise.

Change Management

Change is inevitable. The difference is how you approach it. Don’t become complacent. We have 5S events at least yearly. We clean out the old to make space for the new. Times change. Clients needs change. Your operations must change too. Don’t hold onto the past.


American manufacturing has been historically autocratic, command-and-control since the Industrial Revolution. Today’s global business environment requires that manufacturers become more agile so we employ a more democratic style of leadership where all ideas are expected to be on the table. Onex leaders also practice servant leadership which means we listen to our personnel’s concerns. Empower them to make decisions. Remove obstacles to help them be successful. We celebrate our successes as a team!

While “The Onex Way” is certainly not “The Toyota Way,” Lean is embedded in our company’s culture.  We believe it is a competitive advantage being a lean, learning organization.

How does your organization’s Lean initiatives differ from “The Onex Way?”

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