Lean Enterprises to Lean Manufacturing to Lean Thinking

From “lean thinking” to “lean enterprise” and “lean manufacturing,” the word has created many catchphrases. But what does it mean to be “lean”? 

Lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources. The core idea is to maximize Customer Value while minimizing Muda (waste) from the processes.

Identifying, Reducing & then Eliminating Muda along entire value streams, instead of isolated points is the key to success. Once Lean is applied, organizations are able to respond to changing customer desires with high variety, high quality, low cost, and with very fast throughput times. Also, information management becomes much simpler and more accurate.

Lean for discrete manufacturing v/s process manufacturing.

As you know, process manufacturing is fundamentally different from discrete manufacturing in the way material flows. Material flows in a continuous stream in process manufacturing, while in case of discrete the parts move in discrete batches. There has been so much of work done in developing Lean manufacturing methodologies in discrete manufacturing but little in process and therefore it might be difficult to apply the sample principles, tools “as-is” to process-manufacturing industries. What organizations need to understand is that the better way is to adapt these techniques within a process improvement framework that identifies the various forms of waste within the value stream, and manages the wastes with the appropriate concepts and tools.

Lean for Production and Services

There is also a misconception that Lean is suited or can be applied only in manufacturing setup which is not at all true. Lean can be applied in every business, every process or every department. Lean is industry or department neutral and it is a way of thinking and acting for an entire organization. All industries and services, including healthcare, hotel, telecom, institutes and governments, are using Lean principles. The words are often used interchangeably like transformation or Lean transformation or kaizen is often used to characterize a company moving from an old way of thinking to Lean thinking. It requires a complete transformation, changing and building good habits, culture, etc. This takes a long-term perspective and perseverance. The Total Service Management model developed by Kaizen Institute talks more about how Kaizen/ Lean can be applied in service industry.

"Just as a carpenter needs a vision of what to build in order to get the full benefit of a hammer, Lean Thinkers need a vision before picking up our Lean tools," said Womack. "

Nonetheless, the use of Lean, Six sigma, or KAIZEN™ in the right context can be very useful. The tools has to be used or applied depending upon the situation in hand or the current state of the organization. The founder of TPS methodology at Toyota Mr. Taiichi Ohno always said Ask what the greatest point of need for improvement is and start from there.” 


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