(Now that our picture has drawn your attention…)
Recently, APICS Magazine published an article by Sam Tomas called “The Meaning of Lean.” In it, Mr. Tomas, a retired supply chain and operations management professional whose career included 35 years at Motorola, elaborated on the fact that if you ask 12 people “What is lean?” you’re likely to get 12 different answers. Tomas’ belief is that it is “necessary to have a common framework” (especially within a single company) so that two people can be sure they’re talking about the same thing.
To achieve that objective, he outlined five steps he believes are essential to the process:
- Perform an annual company review. A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis is a good place to start, along with an examination of the company’s recent (prior year) successes and failures.
- Determine the company’s goals. These include correcting specific weaknesses, countering threats, determining performance goals (earnings, sales, etc.) and so on.
- Decide what steps must be taken to achieve the company’s goals. This includes evaluating your customer’ needs and expectations, and analyzing your competitors’ offerings. Customers have ever-changing needs, and rapid design and development innovation are essential.
- Use lean techniques to meet goals. Emphasize agility and flexibility in pursuing the company’s goals, and throughout operations. Ask yourselves… What can be augmented or streamlined to improve sales and sustain competitive advantage?
- Write a company statement on lean. Include a definition and the benefits the company seeks. Broadcast it to all employees. The CFO at Boeing once said “Our entire enterprise will be a lean operation, characterized by the efficient use of assets, high inventory turns, excellent supplier management, short cycle times, high quality, and low transaction costs.” This presented a clear message to employees about Boeing’s focus on growth and creating value.
Concluding thoughts? Lean is most relevant when viewed in the context of a particular environment. Developing a common language is useful to an organization so that members can communicate effectively with each other and avoid ambiguity, as well as reinforcing company strategies and goals. And it’s always evolving, of course, in the spirit of continuous improvement.