Lean in action or inaction?

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Lean in action or inaction?

Garage mechanics and their workshops can be great places to study Lean and see what works and what does not.                          Your first impressions are usually right.

Good systems allow mechanics to go straight to parts, tools, fittings and consumables that they need; no time wasted looking for things or walking backwards and forwards to and from different areas of the workshop. They have regularly used items close at hand (literally at arm’s length), and other less regular things stored a few steps away or on a mobile trolley. Usually where they can see what is there and just as importantly what is out or missing. What we in the Lean industry recognise as shadow-boarding or visual management, but often good garages just know it helps to stop inadvertent mistakes happening i.e. error proofing/poka-yoke.


Bad garages take longer than expected. It might only be 2 or 3 minutes searching in a messy cupboard, 1 minute here and 30 seconds there to find the right tool and then minutes spent walking backwards and forwards to fetch the parts needed from a chaotic storeroom, but they all add up and who is paying? You are.

However, the time-related cost may be the least of your Lean worries.

Dirty and poorly organised places that don’t uphold any kind of housekeeping or cleaning standards (Hey it’s a dirty job!). They may introduce swarf, grit, particles or debris into the mechanism during service requiring a replacement part. Once fitted this can cause another problem, which they won’t ever admit (or even realise) is their fault. You pay for a second garage session and more new parts and even more time…

I once had the misfortune to use such a place as, my usual garage was fully booked, and the alternative garage would come and collect my car from home in the morning and drop back in the evening, which was very convenient. I realised my mistake when during the following weekend after they had completed a straightforward service, I was cleaning my car and happened to open the bonnet. I wanted to vacuum out some annoying small leaves that were in danger of blocking my drainage holes that Autumn when I found a used bolt and a small specialist tool sitting in the water channel at the bottom of my windscreen but under the bonnet (hood for the USA).  I hate to think what the consequences of either or both bouncing into the engine compartment after a pothole bump would be. Potentially pretty catastrophic.


I took both items back to the garage and saw the premises for the 1st time. A real mess and similar to my chaotic pictures. No wonder they hadn’t even noticed the items were missing. Despite them being very apologetic I never went back. Although now I am tempted to return and help them implement simple Lean systems to make life better all around.

My advice is to look for some tell-tale signs. Your car returned with oil marks and maybe footprints, sticky steering wheel etc.  If you visit to drop off and can see the workshop, look for the hygiene standards and good workplace organisation.


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