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Why I Like Lean

Any business system is subject to misinterpretation by those who do not fully
understand its principles a...
sense.” Unfortunately, in many operational environments, common sense is not
  commonly applied.
o Last, lean is culturall...
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Why I Like Lean

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Why I Like Lean

  1. 1. Why I Like Lean Any business system is subject to misinterpretation by those who do not fully understand its principles and/or do not understand business in general. Lean is no exception. Further, lean can be misinterpreted by those who view it as a tool set to be applied, rather than a business philosophy of which the “tools” are only a part. I like lean because: o It is strategic and tactical. Lean provides both a business strategy and a tool set to help implement the strategy. Lean’s business strategy focuses on reducing process lead time (and inventory) to surface problems (waste) to be solved. Lean’s tool set helps people “see” the waste and provides tools to reduce or eliminate it. o Lean engages the organization. Done right, lean is not a project, but rather a process of training, learning and problem solving. Lean relies heavily on employees at all levels of the organization, with proper facilitation and guidance, to analyze processes, identify wastes and then design and implement improved lean processes. Unfortunately, lean processes are also somewhat fragile, at least initially, and it is easy for them to underperform if basic design characteristics are not satisfied, such as material flow, reliable processes, etc. As a result, it is critical that lean processes be controlled by lean management systems that focus on sustaining the new lean process until the organizational discipline and focus necessary for the systems to operate as designed become habit. o Lean principles and tools embody a wealth of operational best practices, such as standard work (standards), process level metrics, employee training and flexibility, employee involvement, management attention to detail, process reliability, first time quality and others that have been largely ignored in many operations as headcounts have been reduced in a wrongheaded effort to reduce cost. In fact, it is the seamless integration of these basic blocking and tackling tools that give lean systems their ability to reliably deliver expected performance and continuously improve. Unfortunately, “doing the basics right” is no easier in a lean system than it is for the many conventional operations trying to implement lean, so doing the basics right is still a struggle. If any difference exists between lean and non-lean operations, it is the fact that the absence of these core tools is more obvious if one actually traces to root cause the reasons a lean process fails to deliver expected results. o Lean principles apply in any operational environment. Though lean got its start in automotive manufacturing and has traditionally been applied in repetitive manufacturing environments, lean principles are being successfully applied in almost every type of operating environment, including low volume/high mix manufacturing, process industries, administrative operations, engineering applications, construction and health care. Hospitals are beginning to “flow patients” through the health care delivery process, creating more treatment capacity and more satisfied patients who see shorter overall treatment times (lead time) and higher quality care in the process. o Lean is “common sense, commonly applied’ to quote Mazaaki Imai, a lean author and consultant. Invariably, as companies begin to understand lean principles and successfully implement them, the overwhelming reaction is that “this is just common
  2. 2. sense.” Unfortunately, in many operational environments, common sense is not commonly applied. o Last, lean is culturally neutral. Though founded in Japan, the fundamental principles of the Toyota Production System have been successfully applied in the US, Europe, Latin America and throughout Asia. Lean principles are no longer “new,” but rather are the fundamental operational improvement philosophy being followed globally in manufacturing. Some maintain that TPS stands for the Thinking Production System, rather than the Toyota Production System, because of lean’s focus on identifying and solving problems, driving to root cause and then working to sustain the improved process. As a result, lean is a system that requires great organizational discipline and consistency to truly prosper, values unfortunately lacking in many companies. As a result, lean probably fails more often than it succeeds. Sometimes this is due to unscrupulous consultants who sell clients a bill of goods that cannot be delivered, but this is probably a small proportion of the cases where lean fails. More often lean is a victim of changing organizations, new leadership directions, lack of patience and lack of understanding of lean principles at all levels of an organization. Also, lean won’t trump a bad business model, but for any manufacturing business seeking to make the most of what it’s got, lean cannot be beat. Over the past ten years Delphi probably won more Shingo Prizes than any other corporation, but they eventually filed for bankruptcy clearly demonstrating that even lean principles, well applied, cannot overcome $46 labor rates, when your competitors are paying $10 to $15.

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