If you are a Lean Specialist, or a Lean Consultant, or just someone who is interested in Lean, you need to know that the field is crowded. There are over 10,000 LinkedIn members with the term “Lean Specialist” in their job title. Over 54,000 LinkedIn members are listed as “Lean Managers”. Over 20,000 are listed as “Lean Consultants”. So if this is your field, you’re not alone.
What, then, can you do to set yourself apart from the crowd? This is obviously important if you’re an outside consultant, and looking for your next engagement. It’s also important to stand out as an employee, especially in the domain of process improvement, and be recognized as someone who adds massive value to the company. When hard times come, process improvement specialists are a common target for headcount cuts, unless your position has been cemented in place by a track record of outstanding contributions.
There is one skill that can increase your value as a Lean Specialist tremendously, and yet is one that most Lean Specialists do not have: computer simulation modeling. Simulation modeling is not new, but the learning curve involved and the high cost of the software has made this skill rare, especially for Lean consultants. When you add simulation modeling skills to your portfolio, you are now a rare individual who can not only bring a high level of process improvement skill to the table, but can also bring additional hard science along with it. Companies hate risk, and reducing the risk of change by being able to model proposed improvements, is a huge attraction. So here are 4 skills related to computer simulation modeling to help you stand out as a Lean Specialist:
SKILL 1: UNDERSTANDING DATA REQUIREMENTS
Taking a data-centric approach to process improvement is a hallmark of Lean and Six Sigma methods. One of the things that I have noticed is that simulation experts have a much deeper understanding of the data collection process than a typical Lean Specialist. Unless the data in the model is correct, i.e. reflects reality well, then the model will not reflect reality well either. In a static line design, using a spreadsheet to calculate Takt Time and resources, for example, there is wiggle-room in the data accuracy. Much less so if you’re building a simulation model.
The primary difference between static line design data and simulation modeling data is the issue of variability. Simulation models will take into account variability in process times, in work content, and in natural human work pace. This information needs to be captured, and then incorporated into the model. The result, once you’ve practiced this a bit, is the ability to ask better questions, and get to the heart of process details more directly. This is hugely beneficial, whether or not simulation will be used. You will develop these skills by building models.
SKILL 2: HAVE SOMETHING TO SHOW MANAGEMENT
Whether you’re trying to get initial approval for an improvement project, or trying to get a go-ahead on a Kaizen concept, or summarizing the expected results of an improvement effort, you need to be able to sell the idea. It’s not management’s fault that they don’t understand your proposal. They haven’t spent as much time on it as you have, and probably are not as interested either.
A joke I’ve heard in simulation circles is that 3-D modeling was created so that managers could understand the process. 3-D or not, simulation modeling is a great way to package your idea, and sell it to the powers that be. It not only proves that you’ve spent considerable time thinking deeply about the subject, but also demonstrates the potential outcome and benefits.
SKILL 3: BE ABLE TO CREATE MODELS WITHOUT HELP
Let’s be brutally honest. As a “Super-User” of simulation tools, you will be able to do a lot on your own, but at some point you will need to have outside help in building simulation models. No matter how “user-friendly” and “intuitive” the software claims to be, programming will be necessary to build a complex model. If you are a programming wiz, congratulations! Most of us are not, and the time investment to get to a high level of programming proficiency is prohibitively high.
The good news, however, is that most simulation opportunities are not that complex, and certainly within the capabilities of a trained human being. You do need the software, and you do need some experience, but there’s no reason why you should not be able to build many models on your own. Cell designs, Kaizen opportunities, administrative value streams, material flow designs, and feeder line designs are all reasonable opportunities that you could tackle. Set this as a goal. Otherwise you will be, in the words of Vivien Leigh, always dependent on the kindness of strangers.
SKILL 4: UNDERSTAND THE OUTPUT AND USE IT
This is what it all comes down to. Collecting data, selling to management, and even building models, all fall in the category of waste unless you do something with it. Computers, and especially simulation modeling tools, are really great at generating tons of data, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
Although there are many roads to explore when looking at simulation data, two main areas need to be looked at for in most Lean projects: throughput and resource utilization. The two go hand-in-hand, since you can achieve whatever throughput you want if resources are not a constraint. And they always are.
This discussion is very theoretical, since without a software tool to practice with it will be hard to build your data analysis skills. Once you are able to build models, put in the time to really understand what the data is telling you. This is the most important step, and one that will win you major positive attention when it results in actual improvements.
HERE’S THE FAST TRACK FOR GETTING STARTED
There are dozens of simulation software systems available, and a quick Google search will help you narrow down the choices. Most of them include online and live training opportunities to help you get started. Most of them are also pretty expensive, so be prepared for sticker shock.
But here’s another option for you, to quickly launch your career as a simulation Super-User. There are two HUGE benefits to a Mixed Model Simulation Modeling Workshop. First, one of the instructors will be Celal Kaplan, PhD. Celal is internationally recognized as a leading simulation expert, and he has built models for everyone from Toyota to Disney to the Chinese government. Second, Celal has written an Excel-based simulation system that you’ll receive as a part of this workshop. This is not a toy, it’s a discreet event dynamic simulation modeling system that has been used to design multi-million dollar production lines. You will use it in the workshop, and take it home. Click here find out more.