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4 Lean Manufacturing Principles for Improving Your Contingent Workforce

Posted by Tara Jones

12/22/15 6:30 AM

Lean manufacturing is a process for eliminating waste in production. It can help reduce production time, as well as excess inventory and overproduction, leading to higher quality products overall. What about companies that use a contingent workforce—i.e. freelancers or independent contractors? How does lean manufacturing work in those situations? Here are 4 lean manufacturing principles that can be used towards improving workforce solutions with regards to contingent workers. 


A contingent workforce often means a high turnover rate. Many manufacturers use temp agencies keeping workers around for only a few months at the most. This means constantly having to break in new employees and show them the ropes. How do you avoid waste and keep things lean under those circumstances? You need a standard method of doing things that everyone can follow easily whether they’ve been with your company for a day or a year. Checklists are very helpful in this regard. They lay out clearly for employees what to do and what to look for step by step. This makes it easier for those who have been there longer to show newer employees how things are done. Newer employees in turn can follow the process and maintain a steady workflow. Likewise, there should be standardized processes for performance review. This way, no matter how many new employees come through the pipeline, it’s easy to tell at a glance who’s being productive and who needs help.


A contingent workforce needs their surroundings to be straightforward and easy to interact with. This means keeping their workspace clean, tidy and well organized. How do you ensure this? There’s a process called 5S—five steps, each beginning with the letter S, to help you establish a routine for workspace organization. What each S stands for tends to vary since the original 5 steps were in Japanese. The overall concepts remain the same and go something like this:

  1. Sort items in your workspace, eliminating unnecessary items.
  2. Systematically arrange the remaining items, so that they can easily be accessed when needed.
  3. Sanitize your space, making sure everything is clean. Cleaning is also a good way of inspecting your workspace.
  4. Standardize the workspace; so that, once your system is in place, it remains that way.
  5.  Sustain this methodology with regular audits and proper training of new employees.


Time is money. Any time you have to stop production it costs the company. Therefore, it’s important to keep things running as smoothly as possible at all times to avoid delays. How do you do this with a contingent workforce? Make sure everyone has a specific job to do at all time. Every job that needs to be done must always have someone on it. You may also rotate people’s tasks throughout the day to keep things fresh. This also makes sure that everyone knows how to fill every available position in case of emergency.

Quality Control

Keeping things flowing is only one part of the equation for eliminating waste. You also need workforce solutions to ensure that your output meets your company’s standard for quality. That means having a system of quality control built into your standard workflow. Rather than having a single person or group of people constantly checking up on the rest, quality control becomes everyone’s job and part of their daily routine. This allows them to identify problems sooner and fix them more efficiently.

Using a contingent workforce benefits everyone. The principles of lean manufacturing are essential workforce solutions that can help you streamline contingent employees. Keeping everyone on task at all times and working towards the same overall goal creates higher quality products.

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Topics: Workforce Management, Contingent Workers, Training Resources