Nov 14 2011
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Nov 13 2011
This article, called “When Lean Cuts Too Deep” fingers Kellog’s Lean program for weakening the company by cutting too many people. We must remind manufacturing professionals that Lean is a specific approach based on the results of over 60 years of development at Toyota, and cannot be blamed for the failings of any half-baked, hare-brained head-cutting scheme hatched by managers who choose to call it “Lean.”
Nov 9 2011
Managing Automation published another response to the same study that claims to show that Lean does not work: Lean Manufacturing and Operation Excellence: Not Worth Their Weight?
As described in the press and their own press release, the AlixPartners study commingles Lean with “Six Sigma and other productivity programs,” which raises the following issues:
- Lean Manufacturing is based on the Toyota Production System, which includes neither Six Sigma nor Operation Excellence nor “other productivity programs,” whatever those may be.
- Lean Manufacturing is not a “productivity program,” but the pursuit of concurrent improvement in quality, productivity, delivery, safety, and morale. I know I am repeating myself, but it needs to be said until the leaders of manufacturing companies hear it.
If these press accounts are correct, the survey confuses Lean with other approaches in an open-ended list, misstates its purpose, and considers exclusively metrics of cost reduction.
The effectiveness of Lean is not an easy subject to study. Should we survey all the companies that claim to be Lean, have a Lean program in place, have been certified Lean by some external authority, or are top performers in their industry? Once we agree on this, we still need yardsticks to quantify both the effort they put into Lean and the rewards from it.
I took a stab at it a few years ago, and did my own analysis, the results of which were published as a Viewpoint in Manufacturing Engineering in 2006. I chose 40 winners of the Shingo Prize and searched Hoovers Online, for comparative performance data with their 400 top competitors. On the average, the data did not show that the Shingo Prize predicted any advantage in profitability, market share or employment growth. The AlixPartner press release says roughly the same thing, but I see it as reflecting on the Shingo Prize itself, not Lean.
The Shingo Prize is supposed to be the “Nobel Prize for Manufacturing,” but what are the criteria used to award it? You can download the Shingo Prize Guidelines and see for yourself. A team of Shingo Prize auditors visits the plants and awards points to measure “the degree to which the behaviors in an organization are aligned with the principles of operational excellence.” In other words, the plants are measured on process compliance. They score points for practices they have in place. It is like measuring chess players on the number of pawns they move, and is correlated to victory like the Shingo Prize to business performance.
Toyota did not grow based on a compliance checklist. When I visit a plant, based on what I see and what people tell me, I can form an opinion as to whether they are among the few that have the spirit of Lean or the many that are going through the motions. But I don’t know how to generate a checklist that could be systematically applied to arrive at such a conclusion, and, desirable though it may be, I don’t believe a real survey is feasible.
Jamie Flinchbaugh doesn’t like sports metaphors, but I can’t resist one here. Usain Bolt is the fastest man alive. Let us assume somebody publishes a book entitled “The Running Secrets of Usain Bolt.” How Usain Bolt actually trains is probably not trivial and certainly involves sustained effort and ferocious discipline. The author of the book, however, is concerned that a stern, eat-your-vegetables message would hurt sales, and focuses instead on easier topics, like shoes. As a result, kids flock to shoe stores thinking that wearing these shoes will make them fast, but the real ones are too expensive, so they buy cheap imitations instead. Six months later, based on their responses, a survey concludes that Usain Bolt’s methods don’t work.
Most Lean programs today are to serious implementations as cheap imitation shoes are to the training of Usain Bolt. Where they may succeed is in ruining the reputation of Lean. It is bound to happen sooner or later. As a brand, Lean has had a 22-year run so far, already longer than I expected.
Nov 3 2011
Via Scoop.it – lean manufacturing
It is a curious fact that in industry after industry there is at least one company that appears to succeed not by doing the same thing better than everyone else but by playing a completely different game.
Nov 3 2011
In Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, the hero’s nemesis is an academic who constantly lectures on historical details that he often gets wrong. Introductions to Lean, nowadays, often include a section on history, but no source is quoted, there are many inconsistencies with otherwise known facts, and some of the interpretations are confusing.
Manufacturing practices are like life forms. Some appear and go extinct, while others endure forever. Some 2-billion-year old fossils on the shore of Lake Superior match living organisms in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef today. Likewise, some of the oldest ideas on making things are still practiced today. Knowing who developed what techniques when and why is not just about giving credit. Not only does it occasionally make us rediscover a lost art, like TWI, but it also helps us understand its current relevance.
Getting the timeline right matters because of causality; causality, because it explains motivation; motivation, because it determines current relevance. People invent solutions because they have problems. If we are still facing the same problems, we can adopt or adapt their solutions. The people of Toyota found solutions to overcome crises throughout the life of the company, which eventually coalesced into a system, as explained by Takahiro Fujimoto. Their techniques are easiest to understand within their historical context.
The history of manufacturing is poorly documented. We know the exact wording of speeches made by Cicero in the Roman senate in 63 BCE, but we don’t know how the Romans made standard swords, spears, helmets, and other weapons to sustain hundreds of thousands of legionnaires in the field (See Figure 1). Documenting how things were made has never been a priority of historians, and they rarely have the technical knowledge needed.
Figure 1. Cicero and a Roman soldier
Official histories are not to be trusted. School children throughout the world sit through classes where they hear an official account of history intended to create shared narratives. With titles like “Call to freedom,” the manuals make no pretense at objectivity (See Figure 2). In business, it is even worse: official histories are spun by the Public Relations departments of the companies that became dominant in their markets.
The real stories are found in the products, facilities, and documents left over from operations. Jim Womack can still visit today the hall where Venetians assembled galleys 500 years ago. Examining sewing machines at the Smithsonian, David Hounshell noticed that Singer stopped engraving machine serial numbers on parts around 1880, from which he deduces that they mastered interchangeable parts at that time. From memoirs, memos, drawings, specs, photographs and movies we can also infer the methods that were used and the conflicts that took place.
Most of us cannot do this research; we rely on professional historians. They quote their sources, infer cautiously from the facts, and don’t attempt to answer all questions. By contrast, white belts at history produce glib narratives, make up dialogs among historical figures, and presume to know their inner thoughts. As readers, we should tell the difference.
Did Sakichi Toyoda visit Ford in 1911? Several of the historical notes on Lean claim that he did, but there is no mention of such a visit in Mass and Robertson’s essay on the life of Sakichi Toyoda. According to their account, Sakichi Toyoda did visit the US and the UK in 1910, to see textile plants and apply for patents, and was back in Japan by January, 1911. Even if he did come in 1911, we may wonder what he might have been impressed with, considering that the first assembly line didn’t start until two years later.
Some of these accounts also state that Sakichi Toyoda invented an automatic loom in 1902. According to other accounts, his work at that time was on narrow steam-powered looms, and his first successful automatic loom was the Type G in 1924, which included a shuttle-change system developed by his son Kiichiro, who later founded the Toyota car company with the proceeds from the sale of the Type G patent in the UK.
Did Henry Ford invent Lean? Many accounts claim he did. This is puzzling because the term Mass Production was coined specifically to describe the Ford system. If Ford invented Lean, then Lean Manufacturing and Mass Production are the same, and we are wasting our time explaining how they differ. If Henry Ford invented Lean, then Issac Newton came up with relativity.
Oct 20 2011
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