A recent article by John Collins and Eric Jack in the APICS Jan/Feb Magazine about the advantages and challenges of lean production systems discusses some of the successes of lean, and why some efforts end in failure, by taking a look at implementation of the Toyota Production System (TPS).
TPS started as a simple edict to eliminate waste but over time grew first into JIT (Just in Time) philosophy and later into lean manufacturing. Often, it was the source of stunning successes. But sometimes, it resulted in failures too.
In the Harvard Business Review authors Steven Spear and H. Kent Brown wrote an article called “Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System.” In it, the authors note that the essence of Toyota’s success is “primarily attributed to its reliance on standard processes controlled mainly by direct and visual signals.” But despite the heavy reliance on these “standard systems,” the genius of TPS is the flexibility gained by relying on frontline employees who, by functioning as a community of experts can make incremental improvements to systems under the guidance of qualified mentors.
The authors also describe Toyota’s view of process improvement as what they call “countermeasures rather than solutions.” These are temporary solutions to short-term problems, like say the Japanese tsunami last year, where a brief increase in inventory could be described as a necessary countermeasure.
Successful implementations of lean, then, require a combination of well-defined processes mapped out by qualified teams coupled with a focus on employee training and common goal agreement. By developing a consensus on current state and future state, the article notes, processes can be designed and implemented, employees trained and empowered to use lean principles, and improved quality and productivity can be realized.
As noted above, well-trained employees are key — ones conversant in the principles of lean production, Deming, Kaizen, and the various techniques for improving inventory control and management. Training is a key strength of the APICS organization, and we’ve found great value in our own firm by having APICS-trained staff over the past ten years. You can learn more about APICS and the high value training they can bring to your firm by contacting them locally (in the Indiana/Michigan are) here:
You have nothing to lose but for the chance to improve your firm’s productivity.