The SOP: Ten Tips on How to Go Lean

Feb. 25, 2022
Making your shop lean is easier said than done–here are ten ways to make sure it works.

How do you make your shop go lean and make it stick?

Often, body shops will go lean and focus on refining processes, rethinking the way jobs move from one department to the next. And while that’s an important part of the lean puzzle, changing long-ingrained ways with skilled technicians and other employees can be more complicated than simply updating your SOPs.

Steve Feltovich, president of SJF Business Consulting LLC and someone who has been applying lean to body shops for some 20 years, says the first step in making lean work for your shop is understanding its foundation.

“At the end of the day, lean is really a customer process,” he says, explaining that many shops seek to remedy production issues without keying in on how doing so will ultimately benefit their customers.

“We’re delivering [cars] on time at the highest quality and the lowest cost for the customer,” he says. “If we do that right we get the privilege and the reward of a much more efficient process and production system and sustainable business.”

From that starting point, Feltovich says the critical, foundational pillars of lean are leadership, a culture of respect for people, and continuous improvement.

When it comes to making lean stick–getting the buy-in necessary to let it transform a business–he says it starts with leadership. With those two decades of bringing lean to body shops, Feltovich has compiled a 10-point list of reasons why it doesn’t  work. 

As told to Mike Munzenrider

The collision repair industry isn’t good at the soft side of management–we’re fixers, we were good technicians, and now we’re the worst managers. Lean works when it’s not just one-off improvements to a process, but when it has the force of the organization behind it. Here’s my time-tested and true list of 10 reasons lean fails within an organization.

1. Buy-in At The Top

Lean is not used as an overall business strategy and management philosophy by the CEO and president. Remember that first critical, foundational pillar: leadership.

2. People vs Processes

Being too dependent on people. Most traditional organizations are people-dependent, but what would happen if you had to fire yourself tomorrow, or you lose half your employees in a couple weeks’ time? You need to have well-documented processes in place, so instead of the business depending on you, it depends on how things are done, regardless of who does them.

3. Pushing It

Management is focused on the tools of lean and the programs of lean and just pushing it on the workforce. For example, it’s giving technicians a certain metric to hit, without laying out concretely how it can be done.  

4. Get On The Same Page

All functional departments are not involved and it’s not synchronized. It’s kind of like interdepartmental conflict, where one department’s goals are competing with the other–they’re not rowing the boat in the same direction. You can’t enact changes to procedures and leave out other parts of the process.

5. Get With The Same Goals

There are conflicting departmental goals and metrics. Any measurement of success has to support the others and aim the process toward the end goal of customer satisfaction.

6. Involvement From Everyone

Lean is good for the workers but not the senior leaders. Again, it all must start at the top, otherwise it allows management to make excuses and sidestep responsibility if a new process fail.

7. Don’t Forget Outside The Business

Forgetting about integrating suppliers and vendors into the process. Vendors must be trained and there has to be effective communications on how they impact your process. For example, you can alter your in-house parts intake procedures all you want but it won’t matter if your supplier delivers at a time that doesn’t work for those processes.

8. A Single Target

The lack of a common goal. A shared purpose is a vital component of lean. You have to drive the focus on customer value through the entire organization–do we have that as a shared purpose or is that just a banner on the wall?

9. Flexible Leadership

Management is stuck in a command and control mode–the old traditional carrot and stick mentality. It’s not paying attention to what the problems really are that prohibit employees from being the best they can be. This goes back to continuous improvement.

10. Flexible Processes

The people doing the actual work are not empowered to develop new and improved processes. Leadership has to listen and allow employees to own how the job is done. 

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