Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Lean Thinking

Lean Thinking, by James Womack and Daniel Jones, is a good introduction to Lean theory and presents some compelling cases studies of enterprises - from small and simple to huge and incredibly complex, such as Pratt & Whitney - that made the transformation to Lean. I haven't finished the book yet, but can summarize the primary thrust of lean thinking as eliminating waste (muda, in Japanese). The foundational lean principals are:
  • Value
  • Value stream
  • Flow
  • Pull
  • Perfection

Value can only be defined by the final customer, in relation to a specific product, service, or both. It seems like an easy concept, but I challenge you to define your organization's value in a single short statement.

The Value Stream is the complete set of activities required to design a product, produce the product, and manage orders for the product. The value stream typically extends beyond a single company to all of its suppliers. To achieve the ultimate goal a lean enterprise must be formed through cooperation with suppliers. Eliminate muda in this stream.

Flow refers to the practice making value-producing activities flow together to dramatically reduce the time required to produce product. It commonly requires removing departmental barriers and changing mentality from producing large batches of parts to producing complete products at the same rate that customers are ordering them.

Pull techniques dramatically simplify the planning and scheduling process. Don't build the product until the customer orders it by pulling it from production. Each downstream step in the production process in turn pulls from the step immediately upstream from it.

Perfection means, quite simply, that the goal is not settle for doing better than the competition, but to continually strive for improvement (kaizen). You can never reach true perfection, but you can get asymptotically close to it over time.

I'll dig deeper into these concepts in later posts.

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