LEAN Manufacturing May Not Be Lean

Most everyone in the business world has some knowledge of Lean Manufacturing.  The official Wikipedia definition of Lean Manufacturing is “a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination.”  There are several related practices such as the Toyota Production System, Six Sigma, and 5S just to name a few.

Large corporations spend millions of dollars for trainers to certify employees.  How many resources go into teaching workers every buzzword and acronym known to each of these respective systems?  I argue that the process is counterproductive in it’s whole.  The overkill of managing these formal systems is wasteful and not adding value for the end customer.  By definition these programs should be eliminated.

Ok, but we all know there is a good message in Lean Manufacturing.  What you need is an experienced manager who can implement and train while accomplishing the major goal of the organization, provide value to the customer.  Forget the buzzwords and the black belts, just apply some common sense.

Take a look at your entire organization.  Draw it out on a whiteboard or sketch it by hand on paper.  Start looking for large clusters of equipment, people, and resources.  Make an educated guess to assign a dollar value to each of these clusters.  Once you have the top three areas identified, perform a deep dive and learn everything about each area.  You may have to observe it for hours, talk to OEM’s to determine machine capability, or maybe even perform a job for a while.

Problems will start yelling at you.  You will scratch your head and wonder why no one ever fixed these issues.  Unfortunately, line workers assume they don’t have the authority to do anything about the problems and just learn to live with them.  Managers are just unaware.

So, either managers have to spend way more time in the jungle or employees have to be given the authority to initiate fixes.

I’m not saying the manager should work in the jungle and fix the problems, that will be a future post on delegation.


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