I was looking through some old books while at my father-in-law’s and came across the instruction manual for his 1951 vintage Versalog slide rule. 115 pages long… and it looked like the book hadn’t even been opened once. I guess that’s the same as the manuals for current-day computers, which are also rarely opened. The first couple of sentences in the manual caught my eye:
The professional engineer is to be congratulated for having purchased a slide rule. Among computing tools there is no other which contributes more to speed and efficiency and to reducing the labor of involved calculations.
Of course my first reaction was to chuckle a bit, but then I started to feel a little awestruck. Sort of like when you watch re-runs of Mary Tyler Moore and it hits you that there’s something missing… no computers on the desks. Then it gets more serious… like when you can’t find a stamp because you haven’t bought them in a year since you pay all your bills electronically and communicate via email. Or like yesterday when I was trying to find an old computer file and found a stack of 3.5" diskettes… only to realize that none of my new computers have a floppy drive anymore.
We all realize that progress, at least technological, is accelerating. Most of us look forward to new gadgets and gizmos to make our lives easier. Many of us have even thought about future global trends and how that might affect our business.
But what does the future really hold, at a shop floor nuts and bolts level, for manufacturing?
Every day new consultants are trying to create the next great fluffy buzzword, ostensibly to make a buck. My personal favorite is "LeanSigma", which I guess I shouldn’t print here since it is trademarked (oops)! And some are trying to register or trademark general methods, like "Demand Flow" (oops again). There are even a few who are trying to claim that Toyota’s methods, and Lean in general, has become old school. Of course most of us realize, especially after reading some of Bill Waddell’s excellent posts (here, here, and here for example) that Lean is about fundamental culture and leadership… not about a few tools. That doesn’t go away and is the reason why Toyota, and the handful of other companies that "get it", are continuing to kick some GM and Delphi butt.
Lean is built on a small number of core concepts… reduce waste in all activities, especially from the perspective of your customer, and create a culture of learning and continuous improvement. It’s hard to see that changing. Some companies will truly get it and drive Lean throughout the organization, but unfortunately most (like Delphi) will look at it as a toolbox to be applied sporadically without depth. The individual methods, metrics, and tools will be refined, and new ones will be found, but the core concepts will remain.