How to Start a Lean Manufacturing Consulting Business

Manufacturing consultants provide expert advice to organizations. You may be there to improve the quality of their product, reduce operating costs or increase efficiency. Lean manufacturing consulting is a profitable consulting niche, and one that is accessible as long as you have the qualifications and the skills necessary to become one. However, it’s important that you come in with a clear road map if you want to succeed and know what to expect so you’ll be ready to face obstacles along your way.  In this article, we’re going to teach you how to start a lean manufacturing consulting business.

Make Sure that You Have What It Takes

The first thing you have to know is whether you’re actually cut out to be a consultant in the first place. You have to be ready to deal with the fact that consulting is very different from the routine you’d have in a managerial position or your average 9 to 5 job.

When asked what was a typical day for a consultant, Deloitte partner and consultant Ita Langton said that there was no such thing. However, she did mention that there were some consistent elements.

I spend time with our teams and our clients, and try to see what kind of challenges our clients will be facing in the future.” She said. When asked what skill was the most important to her, she mentioned her ability to be an active listener. “You have to listen to people under you, the problems clients have to deal with on a daily basis, and the type of agendas they’re trying to move forward.”

It takes a special kind of person to deal with the changing nature of consulting, and be able to work with multiple teams and companies that might have completely different approaches, philosophies, and problems. Here are some of the most crucial skills that you’ll need as a consultant:

  • Great communicator
  • Team player
  • Problem solver
  • Fast learner
  • Decision maker
  • Solution focused
  • Creative thinker
  • Customer oriented
  • Flexible worker
  • Stress resilient

As a consultant, you might have to speak with large groups of people, prepare presentations, and conduct research interviews with clients; all things that require that you to have good communication skills. You also need to be able to manage your team, and work in tandem with teams you’ll meet on the ground.

But at their core, consultants are problem solvers. You will need to be able to process vast amounts of data and research on the company, and be detail oriented. You need to have or develop a solution oriented analytical mind. And you also have to make sure that your work patterns are well-structured and reliable.

This is also a field where you need to be creative and adaptable. There is no such thing as a cookie cutter solution, especially when it comes to a field like manufacturing, and you’ll have to come up with tailor made solutions that are in line with the realities of the companies you’re working with.

Become Qualified

Manufacturing consultants have several routes to becoming qualified. An industrial engineering, systems engineering, manufacturing engineering or other engineering degree is one option. But if you want to stand out as a lean manufacturing consultant, the best option would be to earn a master’s of science degree in lean manufacturing. For example, Kettering University’s Master of Science Lean Manufacturing is a widely recognized program. Complete the lean master’s degree through Kettering University Online, and companies may hire you even if you don’t have extensive experience in their industry.

Here are some of the things that you’ll learn through a Lean Manufacturing Program:

  • 5S
  • Value stream mapping
  • Process audits
  • Kanban
  • Bottleneck analysis
  • Poka yoke or error-proofing
  • Standardized work
  • Automation
  • Kaizen
  • Just-in-time

Talk to a faculty adviser to learn what certification or degree is the right choice given your intended career path, current education and professional experience.

Get Experience

If you work for a large company and ask to earn a Lean, Six Sigma or other credential, they may bankroll your education. Then you’ll probably complete multiple projects at work under the supervision of an existing expert with the company. Or you may take on process improvement projects at work under the supervision of an engineer, outside consultant or manager.

Always document what you did as part of your capstone project as part of your education, because that can lead to other consulting projects or future jobs. It may be enough to land a few small projects that you can build on later.

Some large firms will hire new graduates and train them. An entry level position like this gives you a steady paycheck while you earn invaluable experience to put on your resume. Document each project, so that you can cite what you did and the end results.

Another option is asking to be promoted to management, citing your new educational credentials as qualification. Work several years in operations management or quality management, and you can list every success in the department as proof of your expertise.

You might be able to pair up with an experienced consultant. This gives you an understanding of the consulting world while giving you the professional experience you need to land your own clients one day. This is a good choice if you want to be able to work with almost any business instead of specializing in a particular niche. You could graduate into a full partnership or begin preparations for starting your own business.

Here are some ways that you can show experience:

  • Multiple projects completed during your education
  • De facto internships under an experienced consultant
  • Heading process improvement projects at your current employer
  • Getting hired as a process improvement expert for a big firm
  • Working as an operations manager, plant manager or in engineering management

If you’re already working for a large company as a lean manufacturing consultant, start asking for more responsibility. Ask to lead proposed process improvement projects or offer to solve outstanding problems. Head small teams to tackle the problem based on your plan. This gives you invaluable professional experience in both lean engineering and general team leadership.

Launch Your Own Consulting Firm

Launching an independent consulting firm allows you to control the work you do and keep everything you earn. However, you’re going to have to do all the work necessary to run a small business. You’re responsible for marketing your services and billing your clients. Have a plan for handling the administrative tasks before you officially launch your business so that you hit the ground running.

One way to market your firm is to network with local chambers of commerce. You might have to discount your services to land your first customers and begin the process of getting referral business. If you’ve recently graduated from a masters of lean engineering program, ask professors, alumni and former classmates for referrals. You might be sent potential clients by those who can’t handle the additional work or aren’t qualified to handle that specific request.

Invest in Continuing Education

A consultant is hired for their problem-solving abilities and expertise. In the case of manufacturing consulting, you’re expected to know about the latest advances in technology and the current standards firms must meet.

Keep up with current manufacturing technology and manufacturing trends. However, you cannot do everything yourself. Learn where you can find qualified talent, such as when you need to bring in an expert on ISO certification or a particular manufacturing process. Consider learning how to model manufacturing processes to prove that your recommendations are the best course of action.

You should consider investing in additional lean management training, so that you can offer additional services. For example, you could earn the credentials necessary to train yellow and green belts in Lean engineering at your client’s company. Keep up with the updates to the software you and your clients regularly use.

Plan for Growth

Solo consulting provides an intellectual challenge, but it brings with it risk. Consider taking on an apprentice, bringing in a partner or hiring help. Then there is someone else bringing in income for the firm, whether they’re working in a junior role or offering their own niche consulting services. Or you could hire someone to take on the managerial or back office duties, freeing you up to spend more time with clients.

Just as engineering and operations management can serve as experience that allows you to work as a consultant, know that consulting can give you the experience that allows you to move into a managerial role at a large firm. For example, a several year break from supply chain management or quality control to work as a lean consultant may be just what you need to move into logistical or quality management.

Lean manufacturing consulting is in demand. It is a high-paying consulting job that gives you an incredible amount of flexibility. And there are a variety of ways you can move into this field and take your career to the next level. So, make sure that you are prepared to make the jump, and get all the qualifications needed to meet your objectives.

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