The lean methodology, which has helped companies like Toyota and Danaher to fine-tune their production, sits at the heart of GE’s push to reimagine what success looks like for the future.

Dan Garceau, vice president of lean and business operations with GE Gas Power, has been working in lean and employing the lean methodology for more than 20 years. Garceau got his start in lean while working for Autoliv, the world's largest automotive safety supplier. In the late 1990s, he had the opportunity to work directly with Toyota and a lean sensei, or a lean expert and mentor, as part of a development program. Since then, he hasn’t looked back.

After spending 25 years at Autoliv, with a three-year stint at Danaher in the middle, Garceau joined GE earlier this year, and he shares his perspective on the power of lean in this Q&A.

Q) For some, lean can be an abstract concept. How would you define lean?

DG: There are a lot of lean terms and tools, but if I had to define lean it’s about the culture: a culture of continuous improvement and problem solving to create flow and achieve quality. At the heart of lean, it is a way of thinking that aims to shorten the time between a customer order and fulfilment of that order by finding ways to eliminate waste or non-value added steps and processes. That being said, lean can be applied across all aspects of the business, not just manufacturing.

Q) What would you say to a C-level executive at another company who is considering implementing a lean methodology?

DG: There are several tips and reminders all executives should keep in mind when considering starting the lean journey. First, lean is more than tools. It has to be a way of life embedded in your company’s culture for you to truly be successful. To create a culture, you can’t delegate lean – it has to come from the top. That means, as a leader, you set the tone for your employees and you are responsible for being open to listening to your employees. Part of the lean journey, and your success, relies on making problems transparent, so it requires humility and respect from all levels to honor reality. Next, there are many resources out there where you can read about the tools and theory of lean, but the best way to really understand lean is by doing. Finally, lean is not about trying to solve all your problems at once. It’s a journey of continuous improvement.

Q) Where did lean originate and why is it so important to GE’s success?

DG: Lean, as we know it today, is a management system developed by the Toyota Motor Company’s Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda. Toyota established the concepts behind the “just-in-time” approach to manufacturing, which focused on reducing times within the production system and became one of the pillars of the Toyota Production System, which emphasizes the highest quality, lowest cost and shortest lead time by eliminating non-value-added work. At GE, we are committing to lean in order to drive even higher quality products and experiences for our customers.

Q) Share an example of where you’re seeing a big impact with lean. Is there a specific lean fundamental you see as a driver of success for GE?

DG:We have been on our lean journey for about 18 months and we’re certainly seeing some impressive results. I want to highlight the power of single piece flow by sharing some results we’ve seen on our buckets line in Greenville, South Carolina. The idea behind single piece flow is to replace batch manufacturing, which in turn eliminates inventory (WIP or work-in-process) by focusing on one transaction or part at a time at the pace the customer requires in a continuous process. Single piece flow helps expose waste, cut down on defects and non-value-added work, leading to better costs, on-time delivery and quality. From June 2019 to September 2020, we have seen strong results on our buckets lean journey as a result of single piece flow. We increased our volume by 40% and daily output by 35%, while decreasing our cycle time and scrap. At the same time, as we focus on quality, we cut our non-conformances in half and have eliminated inventory costs. You can read more about our approach to single piece flow on our buckets line here.

Q) You’ve been in role just over 90 days. What are some opportunities you see for GE when it comes to lean?

DG: Our CEO and Chairman Larry Culp has been quoted saying, “Lean has never been an initiative to me. It is a way of thinking that at its core revolves around problem-solving and continuous improvement.” The senior leadership team’s focus and commitment to leading with lean was a big draw for me to come to GE, especially having worked with Larry in the past at Danaher. We are moving away from lean being just a set of tools to it being a culture. Over the years, GE has stopped and started on lean, which is counterproductive to culture in the long run. Take a look at companies like Toyota who never strayed from lean, and you can see the power of committing to lean. Fortunately, with lean coming from the top, we have the opportunity to really build momentum step by step. I am confident in where we are going and excited to be part of the team.

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