The Incredibly Obvious Logic of Lean Manufacturing

By on March 26, 2015
Incredibly Obvious Logic of Lean Manufacturing

The tremendous impact that Lean thinking processes and Lean tools have had on productivity, profitability, and quality is indisputable. Toyota’s rise from being a very minor presence in the automotive world in 1950 to its position today as number one in its industry is a direct result of Lean thinking and Lean work processes. Ford Motor Company’s great strides in profitability and product quality have been driven by the same forces. In healthcare, Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle was rated as one of the two top hospitals of the decade in 2010. What drove the improvements in patient care that led to this rating? After a visit to Toyota in Japan in 2002, they became convinced that the philosophy behind the Toyota Production System could drive great improvements in the quality of their services. It did.

Indeed, there are hundreds of organizations, worldwide, that have experienced Lean transformations comparable to those of Toyota, Ford, and the Virginia Mason Medical Center.

At the heart of these Lean transformations – the power that drives them – are three basic beliefs about the nature of work and workers:

  • All work processes, without exception, are imperfect.
  • Driving work processes toward perfection can only be done in a way that is sustainable by tapping the creativity and knowledge of the people who do the work.
  • The primary job responsibility of all levels of leadership from front line supervisors to CEOs is to serve as catalysts, triggering the creativity of their direct reports and keeping the organization focused on the relentless pursuit of perfection, the relentless elimination of waste. No job responsibilities trump this one.

What are the very practical implications of these pillars upon which the success of Lean must be built? There are four:

  1. The organization’s executive team needs to understand that the success of their Lean transformation will depend upon their vigorous and highly visible support of Lean.
  2. The organization’s management team needs to have a clear understanding of what Lean is and they need to know how to translate this understanding into management practices that support the successful implementation of Lean.
  3. The organization’s front line supervisors need to fully accept the logic of Lean and they need to have the skills needed to fulfill their primary job responsibility, that being to unleash the knowledge and creativity of line workers.
  4. All levels of the organization must be devoted to creating a work environment characterized by high degrees of respect, trust, and candor.

What’s the “incredibly obvious logic of Lean manufacturing”? It is simply this:

Employees who know that the organization for which they work respects their intelligence and who are focused on the relentless pursuit of perfection can drive incredible improvements in productivity, profitability, and quality.

We have a wide variety of training and consulting resources that can translate the obvious logic of Lean into action. And the results can be dramatic. Witness what this kind of thinking did for Toyota, Ford, and the Virginia Mason Medical Center. It can do the same for your organization.

Let’s talk. You can reach me anytime at 314-303-0612.

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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