Lean manufacturing, a management system made famous by Toyota in the 1950s, is being implemented by a growing number of industries, particularly in healthcare, software development, and at nonprofit organizations. Lean practices make sense because the principles, approach and techniques are meant to drive progress forward while increasing profits and efficiency.
All organizations can benefit from Lean methods such as eliminating waste, more effectively managing flow, and instituting, and re-evaluating continuous improvement activities. The ability of Lean manufacturing to be adaptable to so many industries, has led to it becoming a mainstream management philosophy. Despite being around for decades, there are some misconceptions about both the intent and execution of lean.
The three common misconceptions are:
- Adapting to Lean means a reduction in jobs
- Workers will have to do more with less
- Implementing Lean is easy to do
This misconception is no doubt alarming, but the reality is that organizations implementing Lean concepts are relying on their workers to recommit their efforts in a new way, not trying to eliminate their positions. Lean places emphasis on encouraging employees to share concerns and offer suggestions for improving efficiencies, adding value to the customer, and reducing waste. Managers must communicate this part of the philosophy of Lean. The true wisdom behind Lean is that it empowers employees to help make the company operate smarter. For example, Toyota allows anyone on the manufacturing line to stop the line if they see a problem so that the problem does not continue or is replicated. This is just one example of why employee empowerment is so essential in adopting a Lean perspective.Workers Must Do More With Less
Lean organizations strive to add more value to a customer’s use of a product or service and reducing waste contributes to that goal. The seven wastes in Lean are inventory, motion, waiting, over-processing, over-production, transport, and defects. Figuring out which activities contribute to value, and which to waste, is a good first start to implementing Lean. For example, entering data in several places creates no added value for the consumer. Lean managers would insist on reducing the places repeated data is entered. Instituting this new procedure increases efficiency, freeing up time to spend on the activities that do increase consumer value. So, it is true that workers implementing Lean can do more with less - less disorganization, less physical strain, and less time-wasting procedures, perhaps not the “less” most workers had anticipated.Implementing Lean Is Easy To Do
With the growing popularity of Lean comes hundreds of consulting firms, and individual coaches who, sometimes, give the impression that adopting the Lean management philosophy is a quick and easy fix for organizational challenges. Larry Miller, Management and Leadership expert, notes that Lean is a “strategic initiative that requires at least three to five years for any organization of size. It is a lifestyle change, not a diet.”
Successfully implementing the Lean philosophy requires leadership, vigilance, and creative thinking. Much like self-improvement, continuous improvement of operational activities and overall business performance is a continuous process.