Monday, July 7, 2014

What Lean is Not - 10 Things That Are Not Lean

Despite Lean Thinking be around for three decades there are still surprising many misconceptions about Lean. We often hear what the definition of Lean is but this time I wanted to share what Lean is not!  Here is a list of 10 things Lean is not:

1. Lean is Not about Tools
Tools do not solve problem but rather people do. It is not about the tools it’s how they are applied. A large number of organizations have failed to produce the desired results from the direct and prescriptive application of Lean tools. The tools themselves have been proven to work in many situations. The difference must then be in how the tools were applied, their appropriateness, but not the tools themselves.

2. Lean is Not Devoid of Technology
The fundamental principle of Lean manufacturing is to design a simple manufacturing system, however, that does not mean eliminating technology. There is always room for improvement.

3. Lean is Not Only for Manufacturing
Whether it is lean manufacturing, lean office, or lean management, benefits can be realized throughout the company in inventory reduction, productivity improvement, and reduction in errors, to name a few.

4. Lean is Not about Waste Reduction
First and foremost, Lean is about value — a bigger and more inclusive concept than mere waste. Lean is a systematic way to learn to see the inefficiencies in your processes and to solve these opportunities in such a way to grow the business profitably by adding value the customer will pay for. If you want to be a successful company you will learn to empower and engage the entire organization to focus improvement on value-added work from the customer’s perspective.

5. Lean is Not about Cost Reduction
Lean is all about finding better ways to do things, so that they require less effort, less time and fewer resources. It is not about cost reduction – penny-pinching, cutting investment, taking out people – it is about finding better ways to get work done. Traditional cost cutting occurs in silos, without regard to who is affected upstream and downstream. These impacts cannot just negate the initial cost reduction from the unilateral approach, but exceed them. Lean examines each process, internal and external, finding and removing the waste, and reducing cost while maintaining the health of all constituents.

6. Lean is Not Only for the Frontline
Lean is meant to involve the whole company. It is not intended to be put into action in only one area. It is a management philosophy which should include every part of your organization. This helps promote the concept that everyone in the company is part of the team. True Lean manufacturing needs the involvement of everyone coming into contact with the company’s product and its customer.

7. Lean is Not about Less (or more with Less)
Lean manufacturing is not a head-count reduction system; instead Lean manufacturers understand employees on the shop floor know their work best. Lean manufacturers don’t want employees to work harder, or faster – they want employees to work more efficiently. Lean manufacturing focuses on improving employees, providing more value to the workforce, and, overall, establishing a dependable and stable workforce.

8. Lean is Not about No Inventory
Lean doesn’t mean ZERO inventory. Even with lean there may be a need to keep some finished goods on hand or some inventory in a supermarket. It means the right inventory at the right time at the right quantities and in the right place. Every company needs buffers, but they must be well planned and controlled. Things to consider are the demand of the customer and the time necessary to replenish the material. Implementing a Kanban system for the supermarket or finished goods helps to control the level and eliminates overproduction.

9. Lean is Not Rigid
People are often concerned that Lean efforts, including standardized work, will turn them into unthinking robots. Many Lean methods are used so that abnormalities are clearly visible and therefore can be reacted to. It is not about mindless conformity. Lean creates a baseline so improvement can occur by freeing up mental capacity from doing the routine in order to think about how the process could work better. A truly Lean culture respects people and engages them in continuous improvement.

10. Lean is Not Mean
Company executives that treat Lean as mean and use the tools to shed people, the source of the company’s health, are either delusional or do not really care about how the company performs in the long term. A Lean implementation that results in layoffs should not be considered a successful Lean implementation. 

Lean is not easy. It's not easy to understand. It's not easy to implement. And it's especially not easy to sustain. But anyone who has embarked on a so-called lean journey already knows this. Lean, in fact, is hard work and it's a challenge to keep it going.

Lean is a process. It's a culture. It's a system. And at its core, Lean seeks to optimize manufacturing processes and reduce or eliminate waste — everywhere in the value stream.

But Lean is not a quick fix and you cannot pick and choose the tools you use.   The key to ongoing success is to embed Lean as a philosophy, and a requirement in everybody’s role; ensuring the right levels of line-management responsibility and accountability for gradually implementing the various tools and techniques that support it.

Implementing Lean, or any change initiative is difficult.  If it wasn’t, everyone would be doing it, and they’re not.  The answer is that the philosophy, tools and techniques are relatively simple, the hard bit is the culture, people, training, employee acceptance and ultimately perseverance and endurance as improvement does not happen overnight.

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