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4P is a management framework for encouraging a lean production mindset in your organization. While commonly used in manufacturing contexts, it is also applicable to any business looking to implement lean standards like reducing defects, adding value, and eliminating waste.
4P stands for Purpose, Process, People, Problem-solving
Can include alternative P categories like Philosophy, Product, or Promotion
Framework for implementing lean standards
When lean manufacturing was first introduced by Taiichi Ohno in the Toyota Production System, 4P was not a foundational aspect the way we use it today. But that’s completely normal, as many lean manufacturing tools have emerged from the philosophy of lean in the decades since.
Lean manufacturing has many target goals, the most prominent being reducing production defects and waste, adding value to the product, and delivering high quality through aggressively standardized processes.
These goals can be summarized as striving for continuous improvement, or kaizen (in Japanese).
4P is just one of the many lean manufacturing tools that exists, but it is an especially helpful framework for considering the different “platforms” that layer up to create your ideal manufacturing environment. The 4 categories overlap, but also separate your team into distinct areas where you can focus on specific optimization efforts.
The way that 4P can help achieve kaizen is by allowing managers to see the larger groups of actors at play in the production system as a whole.
The four categories of the 4P framework are labeled Purpose, Process, People, and Problem-solving. They can be visualized in a pyramid shape that represents the progression of company vision.
They can also be considered as separate phases of optimal workflow as long as they are considered equally and balanced with each other.
Without a purpose, the heart and soul of your organization is missing. Workers on the factory floor will feel not only disconnected from the bigger picture, but also like their work is not as important as executive planning. Bringing together your company’s overall mission and value system will help nurture a reciprocal relationship with your employees.
Purpose encompasses the following things:
If defining your company’s “philosophy” feels too abstract, then try thinking about the basic goals of a single overarching goal at hand. An example of this would be to define your philosophy as “giving the customer the best buying experience possible in order to improve retention” rather than just “wow the end-user”.
This stage is where you should focus on materials and value flow throughout the production line. Your process should be able to clearly track the first step of making your product to the very last, and all manual or automated actions should be thoroughly standardized to encourage consistency on the assembly line.
Process includes the following items:
The process is the how of how everything actually gets done in real-time. It doesn’t matter how often you’ve thought about the flow of materials; when it comes down to it, every physical movement necessary for production to continue needs to be documented and planned out.
Your people are arguably your most important resource, and once you’ve nailed down your company’s purpose and processes, you are ready to attend to the human needs of your workforce.
People as a category includes the following items:
Remember to consider the needs of all the people along your manufacturing journey, including those of suppliers and customers. This will help to focus your efforts on adding value and maintaining strong commercial relationships.
Why doesn’t the 4P framework bring up people first if they are pivotal to optimal operations? Because even if you drop the smartest, strongest workers into a disorganized factory, your production process will encounter too much variation as individuals try to best interpret what the overarching standards and best practices are. Make it easy for your team to do its best by implementing clear and concise work instructions.
The final P category is called problem-solving because it is the ideal time to troubleshoot solutions for pesky production issues. This is where accumulated data from Smart tools and IoT devices comes into play. Pivotal management decisions, like changes in overarching workflow or staffing/scheduling disruptions, are ideally derived from data sets for the purposes of continuous improvement.
Problem-solving is the last category of 4P and includes the following:
Problem-solving should be the last thing you consider because it’s only able to be done when all of the other categories have been established. This way you have a strong understanding of the different elements that will support solutions to your problem-solving efforts.
Besides the standard “Problem-solving,” the 4th P can also represent Promotion or Performance.
Additionally, besides the standard “Purpose,” the 1st P can also stand for Philosophy or Product.
There isn’t a massive difference between the original 4P categories and the other ones we’ve mentioned; it’s merely a matter of preference.
For example, if you are a product manager for a specific item being developed in your factory, you may prefer a 4P framework that starts with Product instead of Purpose. It’s not that you think your team doesn’t need a purpose – it’s that a more specifically defined purpose helps orient a specific contract or campaign towards success.
A sales manager, for example, might prefer Performance for the 4th P rather than Problem-solving, because the former feels like an optimistic view (ex. “high-performing quarter”) rather than a critical assessment (ex. “solving the problem of low sales”).
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