With the supply chain disruptions of the past year, a hundred container carriers anchored off Las Angeles, and near empty dealer car lots, some journalists have declared that lean management is dead! Some believe that the absence of inventory and the reliance on just-in-time supply is responsible for these disruptions.
The gains made from lean management can be seen in three buckets: first, reduced inventory costs from just-in-time delivery to an assembly plant by external suppliers; second, internal process improvement that reduces waste and the cause of errors within a manufacturing or other operation; and third, the empowerment and creativity of employees released by adhering to the principles of continuous improvement and respect-for-people.
First: The cargo ships waiting to unload are related to the reliance on external suppliers and short delivery times. The pandemic has unquestionable been a cause of these disruptions. Would massive inventory pre-delivered have solved the current problems? Only to a small degree. Due to Covid parts suppliers in China, Taiwan and Vietnam shut down operations for weeks. There is no way that enough inventory could have been pre-delivered to eliminate the resulting disruptions.
Second: At least a third of the benefits of lean management have nothing to do with delivery times by external suppliers. The benefits are within the operations. The ability of employees to study their own process and find the cause of errors and to eliminate unnecessary activity within the operation have resulted in improved reliability and initial quality of all manufactured products. These benefits are alive and well!
Third: The advantage of lean management and lean culture is derived from the profound principle of respect-for-people. In lean operations every employee is a team member, an associated who is respected for his or her ability to keep score, to apply problem solving methods and institute improvements using the scientific method. Lean managers have the humility to understand that their employees are as capable and often more capable of studying and improving operations than they are. Humility empowers others. The manager’s job is not to know all answers, but to facilitate intelligent inquiry and analysis by team members. This results in daily improvement in operations.
Unfortunately, many who have little knowledge of lean management believe that lean is imply the first of these three.
In my course on Lean Leadership, I have done my best to define the job of leaders in lean organizations and these practices have in no way been killed by Covid19! In my course on Team Leadership & Team Management I provide a detailed process of instituting the daily practices of Respect-for-People and Continuous Improvement, what I call Team Kata.
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Designing Organizations that Empower Employees
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Lean Leadership and Execution
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