As I have always emphasized on this blog lean is not just a set of tools. It is a process based on lean thinking. Management in a lean environment is not an exception. Lean management
is the force behind any successful lean manufacturing implementation.
What is Lean Management?
Question above can be a tricky one to answer. But simply put lean management can be defined as using lean concepts in managing the organization. For an example managers will be looking at the value stream of the organization and question the none value adding activities continuously. They will define the value in the eyes of customers in the process, unhiding huge amount of waste in the system. A lean manager will not misuse lean to reduce their head count.
What is Management By Exception?
If put simply management by exception says “if everything is going OK, managers do not have to interfere. They will act if the system faces an exception”. This is an old management technique followed mainly by managers of larger organizations. This will reduce workload for the managers and will build a sustainable system.
Lean Management Vs Management by Exception
When it comes to management by exception, processes will run without any hindrance if they are bringing in the expected results. They will be questioned if they are not performing up to the expectations. But lean management is about continuously removing waste from the system. So even the best processes will be questioned. They will be changed and reengineered to remove waste from the system and to realize value to the customers. But in the case of failure, processes will stop immediately and problems will be solved.
In lean management, involvement of a manager is very high. A lean manager will not stop just at developing a strategies and policies, he will have to come to the work floor and make it happen. This thinking is eminent with the lean tools like “Go and See for Your Self”.
So in a lean environment management by exception is not applicable. Management by involvement or lean management is the way to go.
We have different definitions for lean manufacturing from different people. We have discussed some of them in our past blog posts. I believe simplicity of its concepts is one of lean’s key success factors. So we should understand lean in the simplest possible way. When I answered (once again) the question of “what is lean manufacturing?
” I thought it can be simply answered as “lean is being proactive to be reactive”. Let’s discuss this answer in some detail. But before we go into details do not forget to leave your ideas as a comment to this post. You can do this by clicking on the comments link at the bottom of this post. I really value them.
Lean is about developing a system where we can deliver what customer wants, where they want in quantities they want. In the process lean thinks how to remove any waste from this system making the product or the service higher in quality, lower in cost and higher in reliability. But if you take any business regardless of they being lean or not they want to achieve the same things. They want to satisfy their customers by satisfying their needs.
In delivering the value to their customers any business owner will tell you that they need to be proactive. These business will be proactive in purchasing raw materials, proactive in planning their capacities and proactive in scheduling their deliveries and so on. They will use advance tools like ERP and use the functionalities of MRP to plan their demands and supplies. As a result they would not run out of raw materials and they will not have any capacity issues when it comes to producing what their customer wants.
Lean is very proactive in its approach too. But they do not order raw material in advance nor are they going to block capacities for possible future orders. So how lean is proactive? Lean is proactive in developing a system which will allow them to change with the changing needs of their customers. So they would not need to order RM before they actually see a real demand from their customers for an example. For me this is being reactive to the changing situations of the markets and customer needs. Lean system is very flexible so it can run with virtually no buffers, no large chunks of stocks and can change from one product to another in a matter of minutes. So this system can produce exactly what customer wants in the way they want in the quantities they want.
Reactive approach of lean will save the manufacturer (or the service provider) a huge amount of capital since there is no requirement for them to maintain higher level of inventory. This system will not produce something the market do not need making write downs a lesser problem. Low inventory levels and coupled with other simple lean techniques will make sure on time delivery and superior quality.
At the end of the day lean manufacturer will make a better product (or a service) than its traditional competitors. All these will be achieved with lesser cost making them much more profitable.
It is very good to be proactive. But proactive for what is the question. If you try to absorb the costs of changing market demands and associated risks in the name of being proactive, you will not be successful as you can be. Worst you can fail in your business. Instead if you create a system which can quickly to adjust to the changing market conditions you will be much more successful. All the popular lean manufacturing tools like JIT, SMED, Kanban(Pull system) are aligned for this purpose.
I love computers and technology. Not only because they are very close to me, but because I find them interesting. I like designs of computers and their usability. I always quote computers as very fool proofed designs. We can not plug one cable in some other socket. But I doubt this is applicable to every computer peripheral, at least I found a thumb drive which is exception for the rule
Compare two thumb drives (data travelers) on the image. What is the fool proofed design?
What do you want to keep with you? Is that the clip or the data storage part of the thumb drive?
If you have studied the subject of control systems, you should have studied two types of systems. They are open loop systems and closed loop systems. Main difference between these two types of systems is the feedback loop. Closed loop system has a sensing mechanism which will sense the output and compare it with the desired result. If there is a variation the system will act accordingly. Open loop systems are faster and cheaper to create and operate. On the other hand closed loop systems provide the feedback of the out put and adjust the system accordingly. But they are little slower and costly to create and operate. Below is a graphical representation of open loop and closed loop systems.
If we closely study any manufacturing system, it has many smaller systems which make the bigger system. Requirement of controlling comes up when the system has a higher tolerance level and unpredictability. So the actual output can vary considerably from the desired result. So at every stage there should be a controlling mechanism which will provide some control over the result. If the actual result is considerably different to the desired result the system will stop or give some sort of a warning. Higher the risk of this happening, there is a requirement for the feedback and hence for the closed loop systems. Of cause it is very important to stop and fix any problems
when they occur. This is a very important aspect of lean manufacturing as well.
But for me the lean manufacturing is a closed loop system at very lower levels of operation. The operation is closed loop at operator level. Every operator checks their product and if there is a variation with the desired result, they will stop the system and try to fix the cause of the problem. But in the bigger picture it is more of an open loop system of manufacturing. It has a defined input. And it has a well defined output. In between manufacturing system looks at meeting these outputs with the inputs. Systems are fine-tuned so that they will give the desired results most the times. For an example raw materials are source inspected and only the quality raw material is available for manufacturing. So there is a minimal chance of problems in processing. If there is a problem with desired output system will be stopped immediately and the problem will be corrected.
Lean manufacturing, although it has a feedback path and stops when there is a problem, it always looks to operate as an open loop system. This is facilitated with standard ways of working, aligning suppliers and even customers in getting the desired result, and source reduction of problem.
If you have a different view on this please leave a comment.