Drew Ladd, director of continuous improvement at Flowers Foods, works with a value stream map and fishbone diagram to identify a problem’s root cause in a process.

2. Creating lofty, yet attainable goals
Reviewing historical performance compared to theoretical maximum outputs creates best practices and known best performances. A lean manufacturing system helps inch historical performance close to the theoretical maximum. Mr. Hughes said improvement goals vary, but they always follow a strict set of rules.

“A successful system must be easy to use,” Mr. Hughes said. “It must be grassroots yet also leadership driven.”

At Hearthside, prominently displayed charts are color coded in red or green to simplify where areas of production have met or fell short of established goals. At the entrance to each of Hearthside’s 24 plants, a board displays updated information on all lines, processes and projects.

“Everyone sees how the entire plant is doing on a daily basis,” Mr. Hughes said. “We measure and track everything. If we don’t measure and track it, we cannot improve it. It is a cornerstone of the system.”

Reasonable goals must also push the system toward the theoretical maximum, and the steps to get there must be measured. Mr. Heiser warned that setting a goal too high can work against a system rather than motivate people.

“It goes back to that old adage of setting smart goals that are specific, measurable, realistic, attainable and timely,” Mr. Heiser said. “Even in a world-class operation, you want to set a goal to improve.”

Operational leaders should drive for improvement but also realize sustainable improvement takes time and usually doesn’t involve a “quick fix,” he added. Through Roskam’s continuous improvement process, the company often challenges its standards to eliminate non-value-added work and lower costs by either eliminating product waste or non-value-added labor waste. If a goal for product waste is less than 3% and the line’s standard is 5%, meeting the goal requires gradual steps down over a period of time.

Leadership steers continuous improvement, but a crucial part of driving lean manufacturing is involving and empowering every employee.

3. Developing workforce experts
Hearthside develops subject matter experts (SMEs) through a formula that aligns the company’s Top Five objectives, an employee’s baseline knowledge and the Learn/Do/Teach program. Hearthside practices “cross-pollination” between facilities, an important intra-plant practice, Mr. Hughes said. Through visiting other bakeries, employees and managers learn new skills that they can eventually teach their employees in other facilities when necessary.

Through HPS University, its company-wide training program, Hearthside develops internal instructors to launch initiatives in multiple sites and build the pool of SMEs. The company also developed a reward system that recognizes people who improve operations.

The HPS “House” is built on eight pillar concepts. Each pillar has at least one owner SME who, in addition to his or her regular job, communicates best practices for that pillar across the facility and, in some cases, across the organization.

Roskam uses operational flow diagrams to simplify the process and relies on 5S techniques to map the production floor so every operator knows where everything goes. Line operators must feel comfortable and confident in a lean manufacturing process to improve it. Roskam builds this confidence by simplifying its lines. Because skilled workers are hard to find, the company is creating a working environment that requires fewer special skills.

“Taking out the complexity and stress of the process is critical,” Mr. Heiser said. “The simpler we can make our lines to operate, the better. But we still have to train, coach and motivate.”

For these methods to work, employees must believe in the system.