Next frontiers for lean | McKinsey

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“…Quietly, though, in Nagoya, Japan, Taiichi Ohno and his engineering colleagues at Toyota were perfecting what they came to call the Toyota production system, which we now know as lean production. Initially, lean was best known in the West by its tools: for example, kaizen workshops, where frontline workers solve knotty problems; kanban, the scheduling system for just-in-time production; and the andon cord, which, when pulled by any worker, causes a production line to stop…”

Michel Baudin‘s comments:

This article implies that the “Kaizen workshop” is a tool of the Toyota Production System, when in fact it is an American invention from the 1990s and what it does is not what is meant by Kaizen in Japan

Then the article describes Kanban as “the scheduling system for just-in-time production.” It is really only a a tool of scheduling among many, including heijunka, just-in-sequence, consignment… The last example, Andon cords, had been observed at Ford in 1931.

Even if this choice of examples is unfortunate, Toyota people invented many tools while adopting and refining existing ones, and it is true that each tool, taken out of context, is of limited value. Toyota’s merit is to have deployed them in a uniquely effective way as part of a system of production.

This is, however, not what the article says. It jumps instead to management disciplines, like “putting customers first,” an idea that bazaar merchants worldwide have had for millenia.

“Enabling workers to contribute to their fullest potential” and “constantly searching for better ways of working” is in fact something that Toyota has done better than its competitors. And these are sound management objectives, but you could pursue them and still not be competitive.

The article implies that the technical content of the Toyota production system is a detail. All that matters is focusing on customers and treating people right. Is it? I don’t think so.

This attitude is the root cause  of the failure of so many “Lean implementations.” Until the technical content of the Toyota Production System is understood and properly valued, the Lean movement cannot claim “Mission Accomplished” in manufacturing.

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2 comments on “Next frontiers for lean | McKinsey

  1. Reading over your comments only (the original has to follow soon) I have the feeling that consultants of such consulting companies just “don’t get it”. They probably never have worked as part of a process where these different tools all are used due to the “lean mindset”.

    Thanks for sharing Michel!!!

  2. Michel, you are so right with your comments. I wonder if the authors have a hands on experience of implementing lean management. With hands on I mean not only doing the analysis and “design” but also the implementation until sustainability has been achieved.

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