“Is Lean a set of tools – or a set of principles? If the latter, we’ll fall far short of our potential”
Sourced through LinkedIn
Michel Baudin‘s comments:
Because of the way the meaning of Lean has changed over the past 25 years, I think it’s too late to ask this question. On the other hand, it is relevant about TPS or about the art of designing and improving manufacturing operations, whatever shorter name you want to give it.
Originally, “Lean” was TPS without the reference to Toyota, and a name under which other car makers could adopt it without appearing to endorse a competitor. It then expanded to adaptations of TPS in other types of manufacturing, where participants were wary of borrowing ideas from car making. Then it expanded outside of manufacturing.
But ever expanding scope led to loss of substance. Lean became more and more generic, and the original, application-specific content was lost, to the point that there was almost nothing left. Many consultants are now just slapping the “Lean” label on their services to suggest a connection to TPS. Then they don’t deliver the benefits that TPS might have, and Lean is tainted in the process.
When, as a young apprentice, you walk into a master craftsman’s shop, you see all sorts of mysterious tools. One by one, the craftsman teaches you what each tool is for, how you use it, and where you need to watch out.
Once you have mastered the tools, you can assist the craftsman, but you are still not one yourself, because you cannot do a job from start to finish, whether it is making a violin or rebuilding a car transmission. You still need to learn how to plan the jobs, select the right tools, use them in the right sequence, and respond appropriately to the unexpected…
There are many tools that you can use to improve manufacturing operations, but they are not as easy to see at a glance as the hammers and wrenches on the walls of the craftsman’s shop. In English, you can read John Bicheno’s Lean Toolbox, but it doesn’t have the look and feel of a catalog. In Japanese, you have plenty of tools literature, including the following:
- Tozawa Bunji’s Kaizen Manuals
- The JIPM’s collection of Karakuri Kaizen case studies
- Nissan’s 25 keywords of the Nissan Production Way
- Kojokanri’s Gemba Kaizen Dictionary
In French, you have Radu Demetrescoux’s The Lean Toolbox, which is in the same spirit as the Japanese books, with 67 tools, each described on two facing pages with extensive illustrations. This kind of books is useful as an introduction to tools you didn’t know existed and as a cheat sheet on tools you have forgotten. The two-page summary, however, is often not sufficient to learn a tool from scratch.
As in the craftsman’s shop, proficiency with tools enables you to help transform a plant under the leadership of a master but it doesn’t make you a master. For that, you need to learn the principles behind the tools. Then you can not only choose the right ones from your toolbox but also recognize when none of them is applicable and you have to invent new ones.