This is part of a five part series on a recent McKinsey series of article on lean manufacturing. Other posts in the series: Introduction, Public Sector Lean, Lean in IT, Lean in China, Lean in Finance.
The latest McKinsey Quarterly has an article… actually four articles in a wrapper, on lean. We’ve taken the big consulting houses to task in the past for not understanding what lean is about, but even I’ll admit that McKinsey did a good job with this series. You do need to register to read the full series, but it is well worth it. And I’m trying to get the ok to post it on Superfactory.
As I mentioned there are four articles, each on a different aspect of lean. The context is described by the wrapper, or enveloping article: Beyond Manufacturing: The Evolution of Lean Production. I could nitpick a bit, such as with their statement that "Toyota pioneered lean practices" when in reality they just refined and added to a set of concepts originally developed at Ford and Consolidated Aircraft. But let’s focus on the positive. There are a couple good points in the brief introductory article:
The biggest challenges in adopting the lean approach in nonindustrial environments are to know which of its tools or principles to use and how to apply them effectively. In emerging markets such as China or India, manufacturing managers trying to implement the lean approach also face these challenges. Differences in everything from culture to infrastructure mean that managers can’t apply the lean tools and techniques used in manufacturing operations in Moline or Munich to nonindustrial environments or to manufacturing plants in the developing world; the approach must be tailored to the realities of specific environments.
The concepts and tools are similar, but cultures are different. Similarly, Toyota had to make some adjustments when implementing lean at U.S. factories. But here’s the point that I think will become very critical in upcoming years, and the major risk area for companies that are still skeptical of lean:
As the lean approach percolates into ever wider circles of operations, it ceases to be about best practice and starts to become a part of the fabric of doing business. Operating executives in many sectors are adopting lean techniques rapidly, so soon they will no longer be a differentiating factor; the important thing, in the heat of competition, will be how well companiesimplement them. This next level of the lean journey is managing the softer side of the equation—less about tools and frameworks, more about building the energy and engagement of employees from the shop floor and the office pool upward, tapping into their ideas, focusing them on constant problem solving, and keeping them open to change and flexibility.
There will always be new and improved techniques, different levels and effectiveness of implementation, and thereby different results. But this is an accelerating function that will rapidly leave non-lean companies behind… and uncompetitive.
All four articles are very good, and warrant a fairly detailed analysis that would make a single blog post way too long, therefore I’ll break this up into five sections. Stay tuned.