One of the best introductions to Lean Thinking is a the book ‘Lean Thinking‘ by Womack and Jones.
What follows is a summary of the book I used for my own purposes and hopefully is useful for you as well. I’ve added some counter points from other authors as well.
According to Womack and Jones there are five steps:
- Identify the value for each product
- Identify the Value Stream
- Create flow without interruptions
- Let the customer or consumer pull value from the produce
- Pursue Perfection
On Muda – is waste – anything that does not create value and includes waiting in queues, mistake rectification, over production and movement.
On Lean – this should be not been seen as a job destroyer. It should create work – more valued work.
Value can only be defined by the customer. It’s not created by engineers with complex ideas. It needs a dialogue with the customer to supply the needs – this could be abstract – did the smart phone customer say they needed the iPhone?
Visualising the value stream will expose the MUDA. You should be able to extend this to suppliers to flow the entire value stream from without your own organisation
When waste is removed – make the system flow! That means work with smaller batches. This will generate faster feedback. (Simulations are available like paper plane making to illustrate this). Jim Benson however suggests start with flow and eliminate the waste from there.
Furthermore to get flow, ignore traditional boundaries of jobs, careers and functions. These are impediments to flow. Keep the product in sight at all times (early delivery). All workflows and tools are up for scrutiny.
Once flow is established time to complete work can come down from months to days, days to hours. David Anderson did this with a team working for Microsoft. The team was based in India. There were many problems in reliability in estimates and quality of the work and delivery of that work. He (and colleague Dragos Dumitriu) used Kanban to achieve this.
This leads to the ability to Pull. You can do the work and make the product when the customer asks for it. For example DELL Computer makes PCs to order. Inventory is waste and for DELL large inventory is massive waste due to obsolescence. Toyota is capable of making cars to order because of the value stream includes the supplier. Toyota can build a car on order in one week. If there is no PULL then there is still waste or MUDA.
Now with everything visible, flowing and pulling, transparency is a natural by product and therefore it’s much easier to discover other ways to create value. When employees are involved in the entire loop, then employee satisfaction goes up – less need to financial reward systems (a dysfunction maybe)
A transition should not be costly. Going from large batches to smaller batches for example. If it’s expensive then you’ve yet to understand lean thinking.
And on society – Womack and Jones also say “Stagnation has also led to a frenzy of cost costing in the business world, which removes the incentive for employees to make any positive contribution to their firms and swells the unemployment ranks.” Lean Thinking is the way to turn this mindset around.
And be aware or beware – Lean Thinking means layers of management get permanently stripped away. However this does not preclude the idea of succession plans, rewards for experience and higher pay. You lose the title not the experience. You will find yourself becoming a coach.
A transformation can take years. There are several examples in the book with Toyota and Pratt & Whitney being the most famous.