Pigs may soon be flying. We’ve thrashed the large b-schools quite a bit for ivory tower wisdom that usually promotes the glories of oursourcing, offshoring, and traditional accounting. But recently we’ve had to give kudos to Wharton, Kellogg, and others for an occasional understanding of true lean. We now add the Harvard Business School to that list after reading Julia Hanna’s recent HBS article titled Bringing ‘Lean’ Principles to Service Industries.
Thanks to the pioneering success of Toyota, the concept of a "lean" operating system has been implemented in countless manufacturing companies and even adapted for industries as diverse as insurance and healthcare. With its focus on standardization, quality improvement, cost reduction, and efficiency, lean’s influence continues to grow.
No meat, but good start. Understanding some of lean’s conundrums is often an indicator of whether the author really knows true lean.
Unfortunately, lean’s prevalence has led to some misconceptions. "Some people think lean means ‘not fat,’ as in laying people off," [Professor David] Upton says, noting that in their paper they propose that the difference in a lean operating system comes from how it alters the way a company learns through changes in problem solving, coordination, and standardization.
The author goes on to describe Professor Upton’s analysis of lean at Wipro Technologies. Interestingly enough Wipro is an Indian outsource provider of software services… that is going lean. A lesson to those in higher-cost countries that haven’t yet embarked on lean, or are resting on their laurels after starting the never-ending lean journey. Wipro has done well, but one of Upton’s more interesting comments is,
"These companies are intellectual environments. People are very interested in taking conceptual ideas and figuring out how to put them into practice. There’s not the same division between the ‘real world’ and university research that you often encounter in the United States."
Or vice versa. I hope the academic world continues to learn about the ‘real world’ of lean manufacturing.