In my last post on Lean Manufacturing, I said that there was a broader agenda at stake — namely, the survival of firms in the era of the decline of western manufacturing. Consultant Bill Chambless expresses a similar thought in his book Quantum Profits. He posits that the mastering of short-run customized production is the key to economic recovery.
I like his book, which is a self-described summary of secrets which the author gained through experience in analyzing businesses and turning them around. His method is not one-dimensional, but a synthesis of several practices. The central goal for those starting a Lean Manufacturing journey, in sum, is to produce high quality products and services, with minimum footprint and minimum lead times.
Synthesis of Management Practices
Chambless talks about many methods, and so implies that managers have the responsibility to interpret their business context and apply methods intelligently, rather than blind, wholesale imposition. This is exactly my experience with enterprise risk management, and it is true for any management endeavour. After all, some even question the relevance of Lean in the wake of Toyota quality problems. But the problem is not in the individual methods, it is in their selection and manner of implementation. He gives a short message to characterize several techniques, along these lines:
The famous 5S is not the end, but only establishes a foundation.
Lean itself is really all about achieving operational efficiencies. Yet, efficiencies — pursued in isolation — are a kind of deceptive goal.
Helpful for control charts; apply statistical process control (SPC) in structured quality program.
Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM)
This focuses on reducing lead times.
Theory of Constraints (TOC)
To identify bottlenecks in a technical or administrative process.
Just in Time (JIT)
To feed (kitted) parts to critical operational path.
Principle: run at 80% capacity
To minimize chaos and system breakdown.
Where does one start?
Strategy and Vision
Evidently, these management practices are like tools in a kit. What unifies and guides their use is a guiding vision and a well conceived strategic plan. One can then use phased implementation to capture lessons learned and adjust things to suit the business.
While some passively accept our stagnating standard of living and productivity levels, Bill Chambless points out that labour constitutes often only 10% of costs in durable goods production, and so emphasizes: we can compete!