Lean manufacturing and lean management

My last weeks post on lean manufacturing and TPS caught attention of many. In a comment to that post I found something interesting. This is from a reader with the blog name MM. In his comment I found something very important on lean manufacturing and the management, even in Toyota

In his comment mm says “……you probably be surprised at the number of areas within Toyota not practicing TPS. This is due to the influx of Senior Managers hired directly from other Manufacturers into Toyota without fully understanding TPS. The more effective Managers come up through the ranks. Just my opinionWith his self introduction I think this statement makes much more sense. Our reader introduces himself “Having worked as one of Toyota‘s internal TPS consultants for 18 years, I can tell you what you’re looking at” So I think he has a great knowledge about Toyota. 

Management plays an important role in applying lean concepts in to practice. Even the most matured lean system like TPS seems to be having problem with making it truly lean. This is where lean management comes to play. 

First of all don’t confuse lean management to the project management. Simply lean management is where basic principles and concepts of lean are applied in managing the organization. For an example instead of increasing end line quality check, a lean manager will look at the source to the problem and will fix it to improve on quality. They will always question the way things are done even when they seems to be working fine. 

Lean is a culture. Management is a critical part of this culture. Everything will evolve around management. Managers who identify and live this lean culture can bring result to the organization. Generally identifying and training these managers takes time. Hence this is a continuous process. Managers who do not follow lean can create the total system to break. As per the comment by our reader, this seems to be a problem even in Toyota. Hiring people from outside can be a good strategy to bring different point of views and different sets of skills. But it can add true value to the system if they can understand and live the lean culture. 

In short although seems simple, cultivating a true lean culture is very difficult.  It involves training, careful recruitment, passion and much more. Lean management will play the central role in this lean culture. 

Lean manufacturing, TPS and Inspection

Lean manufacturing is about continuous improvement. Lean believes even the most lean manufacturer can have 30% of waste in their system. So the famous Toyota Production System or the TPS can also have plenty of room for improvement.

 I was watching a video on Toyota’s workflow yesterday (You can watch it by clicking here). It was very interesting to see actually how Toyota is practicing lean. They have a good combination of automation with manual intervention in manufacturing. But they have little too much of inspection for my liking. Some of the main processes are followed by part by part inspection processes.

Higher inspection means they are not comfortable with the quality of work. Root cause for higher inspection might be the limitations with technology available or simply the cost effectiveness. If not this is a waste which adds no value to the end product.

This is an important lesson for any lean manufacturer. If you question the processes, you will find new wastes, hence opportunities for improvement. This is why lean is a continuous process which can not be stopped.

Lean manufacturing and automation

Lean manufacturing and automation goes hand in hand for most of the manufacturers. Although lean dose not mean automation, automation can be a useful tool in lean processes. Automation will bring higher quality, repeatability, and consistency to the particular process. It is important to look for the possibilities of automation in a lean environment. So the question is what can we automate? What will help automation?
Process which,
  1. Are repeated over and over again
  2. In every cycle there is no decision making is required
  3. Are with same inputs and outputs
Can be automated. But the possibility of automation depends upon the technical feasibility, cost effectiveness and other interests of the organization. It is very important to understand, if the process doesn’t require any human intervention like subjective decision making (Ex: Color and shades for a car) in theory that process can be automated. 
So how can we make processes which can be automated? One of the most important concepts of lean manufacturing, standardization makes it possible to automate the processes. Standard processes define a way of operation. There is almost no requirement of human intervention to make the process happen. If it goes wrong, humans can analyze to find root causes and cure the root cause to solve the problem. 
Lean provides a perfect ground for automation. But the decision to automate the process needs careful analysis. The technical feasibility, cost effectiveness of automation, environmental and social factors can influence the decision on automation. 
In a concluding note, automation should not be looked as a way of reducing the head count. Lean manufacturing is built on respecting human resource. By removing that pillar or by weakening it, you can not become a lean manufacturer. Automation is to liberate people from their repeated tiring work, not to remove them from their jobs.

Lean design

In the discussion about lean manufacturing, most of us have forgotten the processes happening prior to manufacturing. Identifying and analyzing customer requirement, identifying the marketing opportunities, conceptualizing and designing are some of the key things happening before manufacturing. Decisions made in these stages directly influence the value of the product, amount of waste it generates in manufacturing and even how it will perform in the market. Manufacturing process certainly adds value to the product so it is very important to be lean in manufacturing. But have you ever thought about lean designs and the value it can bring to your system.

Value addition to the product starts way before it reaches manufacturing. One of the most important phases in pre production value additions is the design phase. Design is undoubtedly controls most of the processes happening after. So needless to say that a good design can add huge amount of value to the product. It is important not only to make the designing process lean, it is also important to make the designs lean.

Designing process can take lots of time and effort and costs. This is one of the largest contributors to the concept to market time. Using concepts of lean like Just In Time, Mistake Proofing and Standardizing can help reduce the time and effort taken to develop a design.

When developing a product as a lean designer, the designer must make sure the product is not only fulfilling the customer and design aspects, but also it needs to be compatible with the lean processes. In design manufacturing constrains like equipment, processes and required skills must be considered. In simple terms a brilliant design will not work unless it can be manufactured with a reasonable cost and quality.

Some simple techniques might help designing products in a true lean way. Designing the full product as a set of standard components is one of key concepts. Although the vehicle’s outer design can be drastically different and innovative engines and gear boxes of an automobile will remain the same. So for the manufacturer there is no need to setup, test assemblies for these components separately. This approach to manufacturing will reduce the time required for manufacturing and related costs.

Ease of maintenance and ease of day to day use are very important aspects that need to be considered in designing a product. As much as users like the innovative new features and novelty, people like ease of handling and ease of maintenance. A product designed in a lean way will be very easy to use and also will be very easy to maintain.

Designing is a creative process. By mixing creative design capabilities with lean techniques and concepts can add greater value in the bigger picture. Ease of manufacturing, ease of use, ease of maintenance are among the direct benefits of lean designing apart from its obvious benefits like costs savings, lead time reduction and high quality of the end products.

Lean, analysis and decision making

In lean manufacturing careful analysis and decision making plays a major role. Before any decision, it needs to be analyzed and carefully evaluated. How complicated this process is? How many tools any lean organization requires to do this analysis? 

If you are a traditional manufacturer you might have a set of tools to analyze your system. And you might be making decisions based on the results. So you might know the difficulties involved. How many times you have collected data using complex methodologies and analyzed them and made no decision. How many times other departments give you another view or a report contradictory to the report you are using hence creating conflicts. So how difficult lean analysis should be and how complex and costly it should be? 

In lean methodology there is a fundamental difference to the traditional methodology of data collection, analysis and making decisions. The method is formalized in lean environment. So every body will share the same way of data collection and hence will have the same information to begin with. On the other hand the tools are very simple. For an example “Go and See It for Yourself” approach reduces the need for complex data collection techniques and gives the first hand experience to the people who try to analyze the problem. Ask Why 5 times is another simple and important tool to find the cause to the problem. Collectively these processes and tools provide a formalized, standard and simple way to analyze problems, finding root cause and making decisions. All the parties involved will share the same information throughout. This makes it is very easy to implement decisions made. Importantly in the lean process of problem solving, analysis ends with decisions, unlike in many traditional organizations who ends in “analysis and paralysis” scenario.