Lean manufacturing or lean production, which is often known simply as "Lean", is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination. Working from the perspective of the customer who consumes a product or service, "value" is defined as any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for. Basically, lean is centered around preserving value with less work.
Lean principles come from the Japanese manufacturing industry. The term was first coined by John Krafcik in a Fall 1988 article, "Triumph of the Lean Production System," published in the Sloan Management Review and based on his master's thesis at the MIT
Sloan School of Management. Krafcik had been a quality engineer in the Toyota-GM NUMMI joint venture in California before coming to MIT for MBA studies. Krafcik's research was continued by the International Motor Vehicle Program (IMVP) at MIT, which produced the international best-seller book co-authored by James Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos called The Machine That Changed the World.
A complete historical account of the IMVP and how the term "lean" was coined is given by Holweg (2007)
For many, Lean is the set of "tools" that assist in the identification and steady elimination of waste (muda). As waste is eliminated quality improves while production time and cost are reduced. Examples of such "tools" are Value Stream Mapping, Five S, Kanban (pull systems), and poka-yoke (error-proofing).
There is a second approach to Lean Manufacturing, which is promoted by Toyota, in which the focus is upon improving the "flow" or smoothness of work, thereby steadily eliminating mura ("unevenness") through the system and not upon 'waste reduction' per se. Techniques to improve flow include production leveling, "pull" production (by means of kanban
) and the Heijunka box
. This is a fundamentally different approach to most improvement methodologies which may partially account for its lack of popularity.
The difference between these two approaches is not the goal itself, but rather the prime approach to achieving it. The implementation of smooth flow exposes quality problems that already existed, and thus waste reduction naturally happens as a consequence. The advantage claimed for this approach is that it naturally takes a system-wide perspective, whereas a waste focus sometimes wrongly assumes this perspective.
Both Lean and TPS can be seen as a loosely connected set of potentially competing principles whose goal is cost reduction by the elimination of waste. These principles include: Pull processing, Perfect first-time quality, Waste minimization, Continuous improvement, Flexibility, Building and maintaining a long term relationship with suppliers, Autonomation, Load leveling and Production flow and Visual control. The disconnected nature of some of these principles perhaps springs from the fact that the TPS has grown pragmatically since 1948 as it responded to the problems it saw within its own production facilities. Thus what one sees today is the result of a 'need' driven learning to improve where each step has built on previous ideas and not something based upon a theoretical framework.
Toyota's view is that the main method of Lean is not the tools, but the reduction of three types of waste: muda ("non-value-adding work"), muri ("overburden"), and mura ("unevenness"), to expose problems systematically and to use the tools where the ideal cannot be achieved. From this perspective, the tools are workarounds adapted to different situations, which explains any apparent incoherence of the principles above.
Also known as the flexible mass production, the TPS has two pillar concepts: Just-in-time (JIT) or "flow", and "autonomation" (smart automation). Adherents of the Toyota approach would say that the smooth flowing delivery of value achieves all the other improvements as side-effects. If production flows perfectly then there is no inventory; if customer valued features are the only ones produced, then product design is simplified and effort is only expended on features the customer values. The other of the two TPS pillars is the very human aspect of autonomation, whereby automation is achieved with a human touch. The "human touch" here meaning to automate so that the machines/systems are designed to aid humans in focusing on what the humans do best. This aims, for example, to give the machines enough intelligence to recognize when they are working abnormally and flag this for human attention. Thus, in this case, humans would not have to monitor normal production and only have to focus on abnormal, or fault, conditions.
Lean implementation is therefore focused on getting the right things to the right place at the right time in the right quantity to achieve perfect work flow, while minimizing waste and being flexible and able to change. These concepts of flexibility and change are principally required to allow production leveling, using tools like SMED, but have their analogues in other processes such as research and development (R&D). The flexibility and ability to change are within bounds and not open-ended, and therefore often not expensive capability requirements. More importantly, all of these concepts have to be understood, appreciated, and embraced by the actual employees who build the products and therefore own the processes that deliver the value. The cultural and managerial aspects of Lean are possibly more important than the actual tools or methodologies of production itself. There are many examples of Lean tool implementation without sustained benefit, and these are often blamed on weak understanding of Lean throughout the whole organization.
Lean aims to make the work simple enough to understand, do and manage. To achieve these three goals at once there is a belief held by some that Toyota's mentoring process (loosely called Senpaiand Kohai), is one of the best ways to foster Lean Thinking up and down the organizational structure. This is the process undertaken by Toyota as it helps its suppliers improve their own production. The closest equivalent to Toyota's mentoring process is the concept of "Lean Sensei", which encourages companies, organizations, and teams to seek outside, third-party experts, who can provide unbiased advice and coaching, (see Womack et al., Lean Thinking, 1998).
There have been recent attempts to link Lean to Service Management, perhaps one of the most recent and spectacular of which was London Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5. This particular case provides a graphic example of how care should be taken in translating successful practices from one context (production) to another (services), expecting the same results. In this case the public perception is more of a spectacular failure, than a spectacular success, resulting in potentially an unfair tainting of the lean manufacturing philosophies
The role of the leaders within the organization is the fundamental element of sustaining the progress of lean thinking. Experienced kaizen members at Toyota, for example, often bring up the concepts ofSenpai, Kohai, and Sensei, because they strongly feel that transferring of Toyota culture down and across Toyota can only happen when more experienced Toyota Sensei continuously coach and guide the less experienced lean champions. Unfortunately, most lean practitioners in North America focus on the tools and methodologies of lean, versus the philosophy and culture of lean. Some exceptions include Shingijitsu Consulting out of Japan, which is made up of ex-Toyota managers, and Lean Sensei International based in North America, which coaches lean through Toyota-style cultural experience.
One of the dislocative effects of Lean is in the area of key performance indicators (KPI). The KPIs by which a plant/facility are judged will often be driving behaviour, because the KPIs themselves assume a particular approach to the work being done. This can be an issue where, for example a truly Lean, Fixed Repeating Schedule (FRS) and JIT approach is adopted, because these KPIs will no longer reflect performance, as the assumptions on which they are based become invalid. It is a key leadership challenge to manage the impact of this KPI chaos within the organization. A set of performance metrics which is considered to fit well in a Lean environment is Overall Equipment Effectiveness, or OEE.
Similarly, commonly used accounting systems developed to support mass production are no longer appropriate for companies pursuing Lean. Lean Accounting provides truly Lean approaches to business management and financial reporting.
After formulating the guiding principles of its lean manufacturing approach in the Toyota Production System (TPS) Toyota formalized in 2001 the basis of its lean management: the key managerial values and attitudes needed to sustain continuous improvement in the long run. These core management principles are articulated around the twin pillars of Continuous Improvement (relentless elimination of waste) and Respect for People (engagement in long term relationships based on continuous improvement and mutual trust).
This formalization stems from problem solving. As Toyota expanded beyond its home base for the past 20 years, it hit the same problems in getting TPS properly applied that other western companies have had in copying TPS. Like any other problem, it has been working on trying a series of countermeasures to solve this particular concern. These countermeasures have focused on culture: how people behave, which is the most difficult challenge of all. Without the proper behavioral principles and values, TPS can be totally misapplied and fail to deliver results. As one sensei said, one can create a Buddha image and forget to inject soul in it. As with TPS, the values had originally been passed down in a master-disciple manner, from boss to subordinate, without any written statement on the way. And just as with TPS, it was internally argued that formalizing the values would stifle them and lead to further misunderstanding. But as Toyota veterans eventually wrote down the basic principles of TPS, Toyota set to put the Toyota Way into writing to educate new joiners.
Continuous Improvement breaks down into three basic principles:
Challenge : Having a long term vision of the challenges one needs to face to realize one's ambition (what we need to learn rather than what we want to do‹and then having the spirit to face that challenge). To do so, we have to challenge ourselves every day to see if we are achieving our goals.
Kaizen : Good enough never is, no process can ever be thought perfect, so operations must be improved continuously, striving for innovation and evolution.
Genchi Genbutsu : Going to the source to see the facts for oneself and make the right decisions, create consensus, and make sure goals are attained at the best possible speed.Respect For People is less known outside of Toyota, and essentially involves two defining principles:
Respect Taking every stakeholders' problems seriously, and making every effort to build mutual trust. Taking responsibility for other people reaching their objectives. Thought provoking, I find. As a manager, I must take responsibility for my subordinates reaching the target I set for them.
Teamwork : This is about developing individuals through team problem-solving. The idea is to develop and engage people through their contribution to team performance. Shop floor teams, the whole site as team, and team Toyota at the outset.
Lean, as a concept or brand, has captured the imagination of many in different spheres of activity. Examples of these from many sectors are listed below.
Lean principles have been successfully applied to call center services to improve live agent call handling. By combining Agent-assisted Voice solutions and Lean's waste reduction practices, a company reduced handle time, reduced between agent variability, reduced accent barriers, and attained near perfect process adherence.
Lean principles have also found application in software application development and maintenance and other areas of information technology (IT). More generally, the use of Lean in IT has become known as Lean IT.
A study conducted on behalf of the Scottish Executive, by Warwick University, in 2005/06 found that Lean methods were applicable to the public sector, but that most results had been achieved using a much more restricted range of techniques than Lean provides.
The challenge in moving Lean to services is the lack of widely available reference implementations to allow people to see how directly applying lean manufacturing tools and practices can work and the impact it does have. This makes it more difficult to build the level of belief seen as necessary for strong implementation. However, some research does relate widely recognized examples of success in retail and even airlines to the underlying principles of lean. Despite this, it remains the case that the direct manufacturing examples of 'techniques' or 'tools' need to be better 'translated' into a service context to support the more prominent approaches of implementation, which has not yet received the level of work or publicity that would give starting points for implementors. The upshot of this is that each implementation often 'feels its way' along as must the early industrial engineers of Toyota. This places huge importance upon sponsorship to encourage and protect these experimental developments.
The four goals of Lean manufacturing systems are to:
Improve quality: To stay competitive in today’s marketplace, a company must understand its customers' wants and needs and design processes to meet their expectations and requirements.
Eliminate waste: Waste is any activity that consumes time, esources, or space but does not add any value to the product or service. There are seven types of waste:
Transport (unnecessary movement of materials)
Inventory (excess inventory not directly required for current orders)
Motion (extra steps taken by employees because of inefficient layout)
Waiting (periods of inactivity)
Overproduction (occurs when production should have stopped)
Over Processing (rework and reprocessing)
Defects (do not conform to specifications or expectations)
Taking the first letter of each waste, the acronym "TIM WOOD" is formed. This is a common way to remember the wastes.
Reduce time: Reducing the time it takes to finish an activity from start to finish is one of the most effective ways to eliminate waste and lower costs.
Reduce total costs: To minimize cost, a company must produce only to customer demand. Overproduction increases a company’s inventory costs because of storage needs.
Steps to achieve lean systems
The following steps should be implemented to create the ideal lean manufacturing system:
- Design a simple manufacturing system
- Recognize that there is always room for improvement
- Continuously improve the lean manufacturing system design.
Design a simple manufacturing system
A fundamental principle of lean manufacturing is demand-based flow manufacturing. In this type of production setting, inventory is only pulled through each production center when it is needed to meet a customer’s order. The benefits of this goal include:
- decreased cycle time
- less inventory
- increased productivity
- increased capital equipment utilization
There is always room for improvement
The core of lean is founded on the concept of continuous product and process improvement and the elimination of non-value added activities. “The Value adding activities are simply only those things the customer is willing to pay for, everything else is waste, and should be eliminated, simplified, reduced, or integrated”(Rizzardo, 2003). Improving the flow of material through new ideal system layouts at the customer's required rate would reduce waste in material movement and inventory.]
A continuous improvement mindset is essential to reach a company's goals. The term "continuous improvement" means incremental improvement of products, processes, or services over time, with the goal of reducing waste to improve workplace functionality, customer service, or product performance (Suzaki, 1987).
Stephen Shortell (Professor of Health Services Management and Organisational Behaviour – Berkeley University, California) states:-
“For improvement to flourish it must be carefully cultivated in a rich soil bed (a receptive organisation), given constant attention (sustained leadership), assured the right amounts of light (training and support) and water (measurement and data) and protected from damaging."