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This is the ninth in my ongoing series of columns with the following theme: “If there were ever a time to get serious about lean manufacturing, it’s now. The vision of doing more with less of everything may very well be the new reality in our upside-down, post-pandemic world.” In my June 6, 2022, column, (see link below), I recommended a goal that RAM Pros can readily grasp: “Lean Equipment Management (LEM) for the most critical, most penalizing equipment-driven processes.” As I have stressed many times, that begins with a business focus.

In this multi-part series on Lean Manufacturing and Lean Equipment Management, I’ve repeatedly emphasized that what we’re talking about is a “Focused Improvement Strategy,” not a Lean program or lean toolbox to use in hopes of improving performance. This week, let’s focus on the work culture.

Last week’s column included examples of the Seven LEM principles. Principle #7, “Building a Lean Equipment Management culture” deserves more discussion. In the process, I’ll reflect on one of the most enduring examples of a “Lean Manufacturing Culture” model: The Toyota Production System.

During the heyday of lean in America, Steven Spear and H. Kent Bowen authored a research report that received considerable attention: “Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System” (TPS) (Harvard Business Review, September – October 1999). I believe their discoveries are as valid today as they were in the 1990s.

Bowen and Spears, having spent years delving into what makes the TPS work, came up with four specific plant-floor observations they referred to as “Rules in Use.” Briefly, these are:

Rule 1: How people work. All work shall be highly specified as to content, sequence, timing, and outcome.

Rule 2: How people connect. Every customer-supplier connection must be direct, and there must be an unambiguous yes-or-no way to send requests and receive responses.

Rule 3: How the production line is constructed. The pathway for every product and service must be simple and direct.

Rule 4: How to improve. Any improvement must be made in accordance with the scientific method, under the guidance of a teacher, at the lowest possible organizational level.

Here’s my interpretation of these four rules underpinning a Lean Equipment Management work culture.

Rule 1: Detailed work instructions guide every critical-to-reliability task: Preventive maintenance, lubrication, operator care, setup/changeover, spare marts management, etc.

Rule 2: Use of a maintenance work request/work order system with plant-floor terminals for plant-floor employee work entry, scheduling, progress, and completion. Problems are physically identified (tagged) ON the equipment.

Rule 3: Routine equipment care and maintenance parts, fluids, lubricants, special tools, documentation, etc. are inventoried, mission ready, and stored near each critical machine.

Rule 4: Any equipment-related improvement is made using a document scientific process (see Rule 1) involving equipment operators, maintainers, and other stakeholders with knowledge and skills relating to the improvement opportunity.

Years of experience in hundreds of plants and facilities has convinced me that these “Rules in Use” work for improving (and sustaining) equipment performance and reliability. The “7 Principles of LEM” and the four “Rules in Use” of the Toyota Production System make for a powerful RAM methodology.TRR

Click These Links To Read Prior Installments In This Series

“Is Lean Manufacturing Dead? Surely Not” (May 31, 2022)

“Lean Manufacturing: Where To Begin?” (June 6, 2022)

“Lean Manufacturing: The 7 Principles Of Lean Equipment Management” (June 13, 2022)

Lean Manufacturing: Leadership & Teamwork” (June 20, 2022)

“Lean Equipment Management: How To Put Its 7 Principles To Work (Part 1)” (June 27, 2022)

“Lean Equipment Management: How To Put Its 7 Principles To Work (Part 2)” (July 4, 2022)

“Lean Equipment Management: How To Put Its 7 Principles To Work (Part 3)” (July, 11, 2022)

“Lean Equipment Management: How To Put Its 7 Principles To Work (Part 4)” (July 18, 2022)

Bob Williamson is a long-time contributor to the “people-side” of the world-class-maintenance and manufacturing body of knowledge across dozens of industry types. His vast background in maintenance, machine and tool design, and teaching has positioned his work with over 500 companies and plants, facilities, and equipment-oriented organizations. Contact him directly at 512-800-6031 or

Tagsreliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, asset management, skills development, on-the-job training, supply-chain issues, training and qualification, professional development