Lean: The Power of Simplicity

By on December 3, 2013
The False Allure of Complexity

In the 14th Century, a Franciscan Friar, William of Ockham, developed a principle later referred to as “Occam’s Razor.” He wrote, Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate, “Plurality should not be posited without necessity.” Occam’s Razor is often restated in a number of different forms such as the following:

  • “The simplest explanation for some phenomenon is more likely to be accurate than more complicated explanations.”
  • “If you have two equally likely solutions to a problem, choose the simplest.”

Over the years, Occam’s Razor has impacted the thinking of individuals in many professions, including medicine, philosophy, religion, and physics. Its influence can also be seen in the practice of Lean manufacturing. Unlike some other popular productivity improvement processes that build on a mystique of complexity practiced by a priesthood of hierarchical practitioners, Lean, at its heart, is based on the power of simplicity.

The force that drives Lean is a simple and powerful process called Kaizen thinking. Kaizen thinking drives a constant focus on doing things better and, as a manufacturing discipline, had its origins in the thinking of the two key architects of Lean manufacturing, Henry Ford and Taiichi Ohno. Both Ford and Ohno appreciated the power of Kaizen thinking.

Individuals who practice Kaizen thinking, like scientists, love to find mistakes in work processes because they know that it is only through the finding of mistakes that work processes can be improved. Kaizen thinking leads to an intense focus on work processes, especially on the elimination of waste in these processes, using techniques whose power derives from their elegant simplicity.

The thinking process that Lean builds, Kaizen thinking, is a simple process. It is also an incredibly powerful process. It transforms those who practice it into expert waste spotters who engage in tenacious searches for all forms of waste.

To help our clients take advantage of the transformative power of Kaizen thinking, the Workforce Solutions Group has developed a training series entitled, Kaizen Thinking: The Relentless Pursuit of Waste. This program is built around a series of eleven, one-hour discussions, focused on the elimination of waste and the development of Kaizen thinking habits, with each discussion examining one of Taiichi Ohno’s Eight Deadly Wastes.

Our clients have been quick to identify the value of Kaizen Thinking and just six months following its launch, we are delivering seven programs. The impact of these programs has been dramatic and immediate. For example, with one of our clients, and just six sessions into the eleven session series, participants have already identified over 1,300 types of waste and are putting processes into place to eliminate them. Most of the waste elimination solutions they craft are simple ones. And to make the payback of their waste spotting even more immediate, their solutions are often implemented using the “Just do it” technique. For example, the waste that one participant spotted had to do with workers in her area having to get the supplies they needed to do their work from multiple sites, scattered throughout the work area. The “Just do it” solution they applied was to identify a central storage location for these supplies and to use visual markers to make the retrieval of these supplies quick and easy. And they did it right away. No waiting for planning sessions, discussions in conference rooms, memos recommending solutions. They just did it.

And that’s what makes Kaizen thinking so powerful. It’s simple. It’s about building in all employees a full appreciation of their individual ability to spot waste. It’s about building in all employees a greatly strengthened appreciation of their individual ability to craft creative solutions and, in many cases, to apply these solutions immediately.

Kaizen thinking is Occam’s Razor applied to the process of waste elimination, where the simplest solution is often the best solution.

I’d greatly appreciate having the opportunity to introduce you to this very powerful series, Kaizen Thinking: The Relentless Pursuit of Waste. You can reach me, George Friesen, anytime at 314-303-0612. Let’s talk.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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