The 8th Waste – Lean and You

Let your organization be a follower of lean manufacturing or not, what is the most important resource you have in your organization. Is it the market value, machinery, brand name? Yes all these can be very important for your organization. But how important the human element behind all these. Will you be able to build a valuable brand name without him, or can you operate and get the expected out come with a machine without him.

Lean Manufacturing and Human ResourceHuman resource is the most important of all resources. It is the only resource which can lead all the other resources like money, machinery and market to the expected outcome. In every successful organization there will be a large team of people making it happen.

But even in those well known organizations, are they exploring the full capability of the resources they have? It is a question always bothered me. Most of the people do routine jobs day after day. They will not exactly know the neither value addition they do nor new ways to create value to the system. Traditional organizations will think about maximizing use of their machinery while a lean organization would look at optimizing the use of its machinery, yet most of the organizations do not even realize they are wasting their most valuable asset of all, the human resource. This is the eighth (8th) waste of lean, for me the most important of all.

If you think thinking is the job of management and workers need to follow them you are wrong. If you are thinking of following lean manufacturing, then you are violating one of its basics, the respect for people. People should be respected for the jobs they are doing and they should be respected for the ability and knowledge they have to change to your organization.

People actually carrying out the job would know how to do that job better. So they can come up with simple yet effective solutions if given the correct guidance. Leaders of the organization must communicate the way of lean thinking to the entire organization. This will be a long term and never ending activity. Managers must provide the opportunity to the workers to come up with their ideas freely. They have to build the performance driven culture. Ideas should be valued with positive rewards. This is a good starting point for Kaizen or the continuous improvement.

A “lean human resource management team” can contribute towards the tangible benefits of the organization apart from the obvious functions they carryout day to day. They will not be doing a passive job in a lean context, but will be actually taking part in the value creation process for their customers. So the benefits will be directly linked to the outcome of the organization. Employee performance enhancement, value saved through innovations, employee retention rates can be some of the indicators you can measure. But for me the most important indicator would be the smiling faces of the work force 🙂

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IBM and lean manufacturing????????

Lean is becoming universal and its application reach very wide audience. It reaches mass scale manufacturers to small make to order manufacturers. Huge services to smaller offices. Giants in today’s world are using lean to gain advantage over each other just like Toyota did in the automobile manufacturing industry. Google alerts sent me an important news on the relationship IBM has with lean manufacturing. The company IBM requires no introduction. It is a giant. Still they look at lean manufacturing as a tool where they can reach competitive advantage over their competitors. This is a good example on how popular lean is becoming.

But the when I went through the story, I was wondering “Is this really lean”. Lean manufacturing improves process efficiencies and will enable manufacturer to get more with the same amount of resources. For an example if your work force of hundred people manages to produce 500 pieces of products within the working day, lean will make it possible to manufacturer 800 a day with the sam number of people.

But is it same to say now we can produce the same amount of 500 products with 63 people. So what about the remaining 37 people. What are they going to do? Are they going to loose their jobs? I found IBM is calculating the lean benefits in the second category, as a strategy to remove some employees from their facilities. In this article if you look at the comments made, it is apparent that even some of the people think they are loosing their jobs due to lean.

This is not lean really wants. People are at the center of lean manufacturing. Nothing is possible without people. Lean is not a downsizing strategy, but an improvement strategy. Read this post and specially the comments made by people. What do you think? Is this really lean? Leave your comment here.

Lean thinkers and negative thinkers

Lean is way of life. Lean is about thinking in lean lines and living that thinking. Lean thinkers always look at the opportunities to improve the current system. They will challenge anything if they feel it does not add value to the end product or the service. Great, isn’t it?

So lean thinkers are very positive and have the “can do” mindset. But all the people are not positive thinkers. This is not an exception in an organization. Some will feel some things as wastes and some people see the same things as opportunities to improve. We generally ignore or criticize these negative thoughts and do not want to listen to them. But for me negative thinkers are as important as positive thinkers. They are not a waste in the organizational setting. In fact they are an asset to any organization.

Negative thinkers are good in finding the possibilities for problems. They will find out any possibilities for failures in a system within minutes. This characteristic alone is a very important to have in designing a successful system like lean. People who think positively generally do not see the problems. But in practicality it is not enough to have only positive thoughts to create a successful system. All the possibilities must be analyzed and necessary actions must be taken to prevent them. Here negative thinkers have a very important role to play.

Lean is all about thinking, planning and executing. Most of the ideas will be in drawing board for most of the time of the project cycle. It will be discussed and planned properly before even thinking about implementing. So the implementation will be well planned and smooth and has a very high chance of failure.

Positive people are good. They make the things happen. But negative people are as important. They will make things not fail.

Lean manufacturing and teams

Team work is a popular word these days. Most of the organizations have formally formed teams to fulfill its tasks. When it comes to lean manufacturing lean and team has a very close relationship. Success of lean implementation directly relies on its teams and their effectiveness. In simple terms No team means No lean.

Building an effective team is not an easy task. It involves lots of hard work. Managing the change, training the members of the team and creating the culture of team work are not easy tasks. People are the most important resource of any organization. In this exercise of team building every organization must make sure that they do not de motivate their employees.

Do we have an alternative to team building? No is my answer. But certainly we can make the process of team building simpler. There are informal teams in every organization. They actually are very powerful in many aspects. Most often these informal teams or clicks consist of people from various departments of the organization. People in these teams have many common interests and sometimes close personal relationships as well. All these are attributes of good teams. But unfortunately these informal teams might not be useful in achieving organizational objectives. Sometimes these teams might have a negative effect on your organization. So what to do with these teams?

Simplest and best way to build effective teams is to change the objectives of these informal teams and to align them to the organizational goals. This is not easy and will not succeed every time. But if worked out these teams will perform much better than a conventionally team. Most of the traditional managers are not comfortable with these informal teams. They focus on breaking these teams down and create new teams. But in most of the organizations these informal teams are much more powerful than formally created teams. So why not just rail them to get to the destination organization wants. They will perform much better than a newly buildup teams. Lean thinkers can use these best in the transformation of a conventional organization to a lean organization. Team building is an art every lean manufacturer must learn.

Lean manufacturing stories? Send me, I will share it with the world

I have been publishing my thoughts and findings on lean manufacturing for almost two years now. I found it’s interesting and joyful to do something I really believe in. meanwhile I build a good online community too. Most of them have contacted me sometimes with thank you and sometimes with their questions or experiences. I was always fascinated about the concept of having my users involved actively in the discussion of lean and related topics. So I thought of sharing your ideas and experiences on lean manufacturing of cause if you wish to.

If you wish to share your thoughts or experiences on lean manufacturing and related topics I am willing to give you some space here on my blog. Send me an email to with your mane and the story. I will share it with the world.

Lean manufacturing and elimination of waste – why is it difficult?

Focus of lean manufacturing is to remove waste from the system in every form. Lean has clearly defined wastes and categorized them. But for many lean manufacturers still it is a hard task to find any major waste in the system. Most of the times these organizations identify waste as people who has no work to do, things end in thrash cans etc. while these might be wastes and should be eliminated they surely can’t explain 90% of the wasted resources of any organization. On the other hand even the best lean manufacturer is said to be wasting about 30% of their resources. So even the best lean manufacturer should have more waste than these. So what is the problem? Why there are no wastes?

The real problem is in hiding the waste. If the workers at every level, if they are not educated on the importance of lean manufacturing and if lean is used as a tool of penalizing the people who contribute to waste, then people will take the simpler root. They will simply hide the problem. This will be facilitated with messy workplaces where they will find the room to hide the waste, inefficient pull manufacturing systems etc. There might be principles like visual factory, single piece flow in practice. Although it is true infrastructure and setup will play a part in executing all these plans, if people do not play their part it is useless to have them in place.

People are at the heart of lean manufacturing. They must understand the importance of lean movement. Importantly they must be confident and comfortable in identifying and challenging existing wastes. People at all levels must be educated and empowered to unhide wastes and remove them with help of the others. This is actually the Kaizen at work.

In many organizations people are not comfortable in identifying and challenging existing practices. This is mainly due to the bad management and insufficient knowledge among workers. Remember, if you are not identifying and removing waste continuously from your system you can not be a world class performer, neither can be called as a lean manufacturer. Have a look at your organization. Are your workers comfortable in identifying wastes and challenge them?

Lean thinkers, should they be single track thinkers?

The heart of lean manufacturing is lean thinking. In the heart of lean thinking is the lean thinkers who align their thinking patterns with lean manufacturing concepts and principles. In a way lean thinking is formatting the thinking patterns such that problems are identified, analyzed and solved in the lean way. But should they be single trackers in their thinking. In other words should all the people in your organization think in the same way?

Just for a moment think about great people and their specialties. In this world all the outstanding personalities have challenged the existing systems and practices and they have proposed and implemented alternatives for those. All the great religious leaders, political leaders like Mahatma Gandhi are examples of their differences in thinking and practicing what they believed as correct. On the other hand Taichii Ohno who is the guru of Toyota production system later became lean manufacturing, challenged age old techniques of bulk manufacturing and economy of scale concepts and changed the manufacturing world upside down. So why all of your employees should think in the way a manager does, or at least similarly? The real power of humans lies in their thinking. So why by any means someone should try to format all the people in the same mould.

One reason can be to handle people easily. In a situation where all the employees think similarly, there are no conflicts between them in their work, especially they will not have any conflicts with their managers. So what an organization would get out of this? A group of employees who are very good at their day to day work, a workplace without conflicts and culture of non arguing and acceptance of ideas. But what an organization would miss in this scenario? They will miss the path to their long term success. Challenging ideas outside the scope of thinking will not be generated or will not be encouraged if not penalized. They will happily do what they do, and will try to improve in their limited scope.

This is not what lean thinking promotes. It is the free thinking and looking for new way of doing things, but with the guidance of core disciplines of lean. If in an implementation of lean, if lean thinking is used to carbon copy the manager’s mindset to the others it is not other than inability of manager to handle people. In simple terms this is poor management. Managers and lean leaders must be skilled enough to promote the advantages of lean and meanwhile listen to the others and change with the suggestions of the others.

People are great when they are on their own. They can do wonders for your organizations. So do not make them handicaps mentally. Definitely not in the name of lean manufacturing. Personally I love to see people asking me the question WHY, although it makes me uncomfortable at times. I know they will make the organization a better place one day.

Labor turnover and implications on lean manufacturing process

People leaving any organization is nothing unusual in today’s context. People will do so for many reasons. But whatever the reasons are is it good from the organizational point of view, especially from a lean organization point of view?

Lean manufacturers are process oriented. So it is safe to call lean manufacturers does not affected by labor turnover like a traditional organization does, technically. But the reality is, in whatever circumstances when one leaves, it is very hard to fulfill the gap of knowledge, no matter how good your processes are. Especially in a lean environment where there is heavy teambuilding is required, team synergy is very important this will mean a lot than for a traditional organization.

While thinking about the effect of people leaving a lean organization, I have to ask an additional question. Why people leave a lean manufacturer? If this is a frequent occurrence, are you truly a lean manufacturer? I believe anyone should ask this question them selves before finding answer for the first question we discussed. One of the corner stones of lean manufacturing is respect for people. Most of the people leave their jobs not because they want better salaries and packages although that can be one reason. Most of the people leave organizations due to various frustrations they face in their day-to-day work or unfair treatment and so on. So if this is same in your organization, I believe you can not consider yourself as a lean manufacturer.

People are the most important factor in lean manufacturing. In fact without them there will not be an organization to function. So respect them.