It’s no secret that lean is much more than a set of tools and best practices designed to eliminate waste and reduce variance in our operations. I contend that lean is defined by a culture that embraces the principles on which lean is founded. An engaged lean culture is evidenced by the continuing development and integration of improved systems, methods, technologies, best practices, and better practices. When the principles of lean are clearly understood, the strategy and creative solutions that are deployed become a signature trait of the company itself.
Unfortunately, to offset the effects of the recession, many lean initiatives have either diminished or disappeared as companies downsized and restructured to reduce costs. People who once entered data, prepared reports, or updated charts could no longer be supported and their positions were eliminated. Eventually, other initiatives also lost momentum as further staffing cuts were made. In my opinion, companies that adopted this approach simply attempted to implement lean by surrounding existing systems with lean tools.
Some companies have simply returned to a “back to basics” strategy that embraces the most fundamental principles of lean. Is it enough to be driven by a mission, a few metrics, and simple policy statements or slogans such as “Zero Downtime”, “Zero Defects”, and “Eliminate Waste?” How do we measure our ability to safely produce a quality part at rate, delivered on time and in full, at the lowest possible cost? Regardless of what we measure internally, our stakeholders are only concerned with two simple metrics – Profit and Return on Investment. The cold hard fact is that banks and investors really don’t care what tools you use to get the job done. From their perspective the best thing you can do is make them money! I agree that we are in business to make money.
What does it mean to be lean? I ask this question on the premise that, in many cases, sustainability appears to be dependent on the resources that are available to support lean versus those who are actually running the process itself. As such, “sustainability” is becoming a much greater concern today than perhaps most of us are likely willing to admit. I have always encouraged companies to implement systems where events, data, and key metrics are managed in real-time at the source such that the data, events, and metrics form an integral part of the whole process.
Processing data for weekly or monthly reports may be necessary, however, they are only meaningful if they are an extension of ongoing efforts at shop floor / process level itself. To do otherwise is simply pretending to be lean. It is imperative that data being recorded, the metrics being measured, and the corrective actions are meaningful, effective, and influence our actions and behaviors.
To illustrate the difference between Culture and Tools consider this final thought: A carpenter is still a carpenter with or without hammer and nails.
Until Next Time – STAY lean!