Carl Wright has an article in last month’s Reliable Plant magazine ostensibly titled The Correct Approach to Implementing Lean. Unfortunately that "correct approach" will lead to failure.
His premise is valid: many companies jump into the lean world by haphazardly opening the lean toolbox.
Some companies have heard that lean manufacturing implementation will reduce their waste and costs, and decide to just start implementing. They often start using one tool at a time until the boss declares it’s done. Worse yet, some companies find a consultant that knows 5-S and little else. When the consultant leaves, the clean and organized business eventually realizes they are clean, organized and still full of waste.
Those companies generally give up within a few months out of frustration. Even if they successfully implement a tool or two, they don’t realize that lean generally creates an initial negative P&L effect before true savings kick in, which doesn’t please an uneducated boss. So Wright’s solution is to take an analysis-based approach to the tools.
The correct approach to implementing lean manufacturing begins with an analysis of the businesses needs, opportunities and challenges. Once these opportunities are identified, the tools are used which will solve the issues. In other words, the problems identify the tools rather than the tools being forced into the organization.
Which is an improvement. However companies that simply do that analysis-based approach and nothing more will still fail, or at a minimum fail to realize the majority of lean-related improvements.
Lean is about much more than tools, even the correct application of tools. It is a passionate, deep, and pervasive desire to create value for the customer by reducing waste and continually improving. Employees at truly lean companies are never satisfied.
And that just completes one of the two primary pillars of lean. The other is "respect for people," and is even less likely to be implemented. That respect is understanding that people are more than just a set of hands and have value that goes beyond a simple labor rate. With proper training, involvement, management support, and empowerment people can create improvements that dramatically transcend their cost. This is what most companies don’t understand when they close down and move an operation to a supposedly lower-cost area. They do not realize what they just lost in terms of knowledge, creativity, commitment, and experience.
Even companies that have a deep focus on creating customer value can fail, and it generally due to ignorance of the second pillar. Just last week my good friend Norman Bodek asked me if I knew of any truly lean companies in North America. I don’t know. I do know of companies that have an exceptional implementation of tools, some that have an exceptional lean management strategy, some that have a real understanding of customer value, and in rare cases some that exhibit true respect for people. But all aspects? Especially to the level of a Toyota? None come to mind. I bet there’s a small handful out there, though. Sad. Or perhaps, what an opportunity!
Mr. Wright, you’re on the right track. But you have a long, long ways to go.