Where Should Lean Lead?

I think it does a great disservice to manufacturers, large and small, to imply that they can pick and choose from some sort of lean buffet.

Many manufacturers who attempt to wrap their arms, and minds, around the concepts that have come to be known as "lean" make the mistake of trying to compartmentalize the philosophy. Unfortunately, Rick Bohan has done exactly the same thing in his article ["Small Manufacturers Need to be Agile, Not Lean," Nov. 2010].

While I fully agree that agility is a powerful byproduct of creating a lean environment and that the benefits he examines for small manufacturers are real and tangible, I strongly disagree with statements like this one: "It's just that the lean message' at least as it's been translated and communicated over the past several years, has little applicability to the circumstances of small manufacturers. Small manufacturers (and just about everybody else) have been sold on the idea that lean tools are primarily for cost cutting."

I've been learning and implementing lean for more than 15 years and have never been given the impression that lean tools "are primarily for cost cutting." Mr. Bohan misrepresents the traditional "lean message" as being one of "hoping for promised' cuts in payroll, improvements in efficiency and reduced costs elsewhere." Lean's message has always been one of responsiveness to customer needs, identification and elimination of non-value-added activities, and a passionate devotion to employee participation. Everything else is a byproduct, not a promise -- including the agility Mr. Bohan is trying to sell.

I think it does a great disservice to manufacturers, large and small, to imply that they can pick and choose from some sort of lean buffet.

Terry Durbin
Continuous Improvement Manager
Winegard Co.
Burlington, Iowa

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