The principles of Lean manufacturing are not the be-all-end-all of continuous improvement practices. They’re simply useful tools to consider when improving production processes.  The problem is that some people become overly dogmatic about following Lean even in situations where it might not be applicable.

Consider this: in the parlance of lean manufacturing, anything that doesn’t increase value in the eye of the customer must be considered waste, and every effort should be made to eliminate that waste. It’s a valid point. I like to think of the bottle opener.  You can throw a bottle opener onto absolutely everything if you wanted, and some people certainly have. However, why would you if the customer doesn’t find value in it?  You’re just wasting time and resources putting a bottle opener onto your product that customers do not use and do not want.

However, having value from the customer’s perspective as the sole consideration is also problematic. Marketing doesn’t increase value in the eyes of the customer; however, you would be mistaken to claim that marketing is a waste that should be eliminated. Marketing has a very important role in getting prospective customers to first consider your business and prospective customers into actual paying customers. Therefore, although marketing might not be adding value in the eyes of the customer, any successful business will need to have some degree of resources dedicated to marketing.

There are other downfalls of being overly dogmatic about Lean manufacturing. Some of these include:

Lack of consideration of human aspects

Lean expects a lot out of shop floor workers. It expects workers to be constantly involved in something to minimize downtime while maintaining a clean, efficient shop.  On top of that, Lean pushes for high-quality work with zero defects which increases pressure upon the workers further, particularly in jobs that demand a high degree of concentration.

At Focused Improvement, we recognize that human beings are involved in the production processes and we do not buy into the dehumanizing aspects of Lean manufacturing. We realize that for any Lean transformation to be successful, the workers need to be involved in the process. We aim to get the workers to understand the importance of continuous improvement through creative thinking and problem solving. Instead of laying off workers, we want to empower workers by teaching them new skill sets for sustainable improvements in the business.

Coping with variability

Variability is the degree of difference in the same process when repeated. Some variation is natural, since processes do not always remain the same, and some variability is artificial. This artificial variability is related to controllable factors in the design and management of systems. On an operational level the lean approach focuses on only removing artificial variability, ignoring natural variability. Why try to fix something that cannot be “fixed”, after all? Therefore, in situations of demand variability (natural variability) Lean approaches have sought to control demand. However, in some settings, demand variability is a main inhibitor to the implementation of Lean in general.

Demand variability is unavoidable, particularly in many of the industries in which we work.  Our consultants are comfortable using hybrid approaches to Lean, such as an Agile/Lean hybrid to solve variability issues.

How are we different?

We always try to be cognizant and forward thinking when we’re working on projects, and that means that we are never dogmatic about Lean production. We understand the importance of Lean techniques as a great set of tools to improve production, however we also understand that a cookie-cutter approach to implementing Lean is not necessarily the way to improve your business. Our consultants specialize in crafting an individualized strategy tailored to your particular business situation, utilizing Lean where applicable but also crafting a customized plan that is suited to bring you tangible results. For more information on how Focused Improvement Consulting can help you improve your bottom line, please get in touch at [email protected]