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Are We Expecting Too Little from Lean?

Posted By Jeff Moad, July 02, 2014 at 12:18 PM, in Category: The Innovative Enterprise

Most manufacturers’ lean initiatives lack an overall design or strategy and, therefore, end up focusing on isolated, incremental operational improvement projects that are difficult to sustain and take years to produce significant results. Instead, the ultimate goal of lean should be to free executives from day-to-day management of flow issues so that they can go on the offensive and grow the business.

This is opinion of Kevin Duggan, founder of the Institute for Operational Excellence, who, in a roundtable article to be published in the August issue of the Manufacturing Leadership Journal, says lean initiatives should be focused on creating “self-healing value streams” that free executives to focus on growth.

Those self-healing value streams, says Duggan require making abnormal flow visual to everyone, creating standard work for abnormal flow, and teaching employees to maintain and improve flow to customers on their own.

Incrementally reducing waste should not be the ultimate point of lean, says Duggan. “Having a great lean factory doesn’t mean you’re going to ensure top-line business growth. It just means you’re going to have a factory with little waste; it doesn’t mean the customer is going to want [your] new product,” says Duggan.

Lean initiatives should free executives to get out of the plant and innovate new solutions with customers, Duggan maintains. “You can be as lean as you want but someday, if we don't go out there and innovate with our customers to find out what’s going on with them, somebody else is going to,” Duggan says.

What do you think? Have we been expecting too little from lean?

Written by Jeff Moad

Jeff Moad is Research Director and Executive Editor with the Manufacturing Leadership Community. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Awards Program. Follow our LinkedIn Groups: Manufacturing Leadership Council and Manufacturing Leadership Summit


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