CABO SAN LUCAS, MEXICO — Health-conscious consumers are all about 30-day body transformations, and similar concepts may be applied to lean bakery operations. Be warned, however, that true transformations don’t just happen overnight. They require time, commitment and prioritization that permeate all facets of a baking or snack company.

At the BEMA annual convention, held June 19-23, Nelson Boyd, change architect and project manager for Bimbo Bakeries USA, spoke to convention attendees on behalf of BEMA’s Baking Industry Forum about lean transformation strategies.

“Lean transformation is a large undertaking,” Mr. Boyd said. “It will take a long time, and it comes with a lot of eye-opening experiences. You’re going to learn a lot of big truths about things that may have been swept underneath the carpet. It’s an acquired skill, and those skills develop over time.”

With so many advances in technology today, it’s easy to assume that automation is the key to streamlining efficiency. But the truth is, it’s only part of the equation.

“If you have an inefficient system and add automation, it will not make it more efficient,” Mr. Boyd said. “But if you have an efficient system and automate it, you’ll make it more efficient.”

The first step to a lean transformation is prioritization.

“It has to be a priority at the top of the organization," he said. "If not, then you’re already setting yourself up for failure."

If a transformation is that much work, why would anyone want to go down this path?

“The payback is tremendous and goes way beyond what can be a long and grueling process,” Mr. Boyd said.

Benefits can include quality improvements, reduced space utilization and decreased costs per unit.

If one were to diagram a lean transformation process, it might look a bit like a house. And, according to Mr. Boyd, when executed properly, a true lean transformation’s “house” will consist of five parts.

The first stage, or the roof of the house, is identifying the problem. This is also known as the value-driven purpose.

“This is the ‘true north,’” Mr. Boyd explained.

Next is the continuous improvement or the actual work that needs to be done. Of course, there’s already a lot of work being done in a bakery operation, Mr. Boyd said, but the key is to look at what’s not getting accomplished. This is what drives the company to achieve the value-driven purpose.

“Work that is not needed is not value added, and that is waste,” he said.

Measurement is critical for continuous improvement, and one tool is a measurement system analysis, according to Mr. Boyd. Data must not only be input but also critically analyzed to measure and control it before the work can be improved. Lean tools such as process controls come into play here. But they aren’t necessarily the driving force of the transformation, he cautioned.

“It’s actually more about experiments and tests than the tools and techniques,” he said. “That’s where people can go wrong here. They’ll put tools in place and think that’s going to work without having the mindset to use them first.”

Mr. Boyd used the laws of statistics — specifically rolling dice — to illustrate the importance of experimenting and testing. For example, rolling three dice can result in a sum of anywhere from 3 to 18, and the probability of assuming the correct answer is low.

“The only way to learn the right outcome is to actually roll the dice,” he said. “You have to experiment; you have to test.”

One big challenge with implementing lean practices is breaking the habit of making assumptions.

“We are naturally geared to take information and automatically make decisions," Mr. Boyd said. "In reality, we may not have all the data we need, and if we’re making decisions based on assumptions or statistics, they aren’t necessarily the right ones. When we jump to conclusions, we end up making bad decisions.”

Mr. Boyd advised that it’s acceptable to say, “I don’t know” because it motivates workers and leaders to collect information before making decisions.

The third dimension pertains to people. It starts with respect and leads to engagement, which improves individual capabilities — which ultimately improves the work toward a value-driven purpose. This is where tools and skills link together.

“Tools and skills are not a list that you pick from,” Mr. Boyd said. “This is a system that works together, and when it does, that’s when you see the improvements.”

When associates are trained to have the key capabilities for improving work for a value-added approach, behavior is naturally the next dimension.

“You want to foster the environment for the needed behaviors,” Mr. Boyd said.

Older systems may have operated under a corrective or punishing environment, but transformation requires soft skills that revolve more around coaching. Failure shouldn’t be avoided but, according to Mr. Boyd, used as a learning tool.

“Managers should be more like coaches," he said. "When someone fails, help them get back up and keep trying in order to succeed.”

He noted that beyond behaviors, management systems should be designed to allow for mistakes.

Most waste comes from systems, processes, policies and procedures that do not support a company’s true purpose. But with management and systems in place to foster a learning environment, the work — and efficiencies — will naturally improve.

“Focus on fixing the process, not the people,” he suggested. “When people mess up, address the process, what they’re learning and how they’re learning it, rather than punishing the person.”

The final, underlying dimension is the basic thinking and mindset.

“This is the biggest piece because if you don’t understand what your current culture is and where it needs to be, you’ll never reach the true north,” he said.

This is the foundation of the house, which is built from the ground up.

“You have to identify the purpose first, but you must build it up from the ground," Mr. Boyd said. "Just as you can’t build a house on sand, you need to have the right basic thinking, mindsets and culture to build a transformation.”

Companies must first agree on what lean manufacturing means within the context of its culture.

“You have to handle the disagreements of lean and change first before you can go down the path of improving it,” Mr. Boyd explained.

“The culture is the main piece because culture eats strategy for lunch,” he added. “You can have the best strategy in the world, but if your culture isn’t behind it, it’s going to gobble it up and spit it out; the strategy doesn’t stand a chance.”