October 19, 2011
One of the world’s leading efficiency trends monitoring agency, the Organization of Practitioners in Lean Enterprise Advancement and Sustainability (OPLEAS) issued a statement today revising the expected date of peak lean from 2089 to as early as 2027. Reading a prepared statement, OPLEAS Chairman Jacques Schpratz said:
“With the advanced exploration major deposits of muda in nearly every known industry on all continents, based on the current rate of muda removal, and projecting the continued rapid worldwide pace of buildup of muda reduction capacity, our studies have concluded that half of the global supply of muda will have been exploited before the end of the next decade.”
First proposed in 1939 by amateur Swiss economist Henri Medé Miller, peak lean is the halfway point in the exploitation of the global muda supply. Viewed for over half a century as a purely theoretical model with no practical application, the Miller Curve was only rediscovered and brought to the attention of the lean conversion community by Prof. Emilio Roberts of the Northeast Institute for Lean Studies in 1989.
Pressed for clarification by OPLEAS members on what the date revision meant in practice, their PR department issued a follow up statement, “We do not wish to be alarmist, but we are advising all OPLEAS members to prepare, well in advance of the previous guidance date for peak lean, for a future without enough room for improvement to supply their professional needs.”
Lean manufacturing, which was first practiced in crude form over 100 years ago, involves the conversation of muda into a wide variety of resources including energy, space, time and customer satisfaction. The lean conversion process spread slowly after World War II from Japan, beginning in the automotive manufacturing sector and moving into other countries and sectors over a half century. The pace of muda reduction accelerated dramatically with the adoption of the so-called “Toyota method” of lean conversion by Western corporations in the early 1990s.
“It’s unbelievable how quickly lean exploration has expanded in the past 10 years,” says Justin Thyme, an independent lean efficiency consultant based in Clearwater, Florida. “We have seen lean manufacturing turn into lean healthcare, to lean IT, lean banking, lean government, even lean dentistry! In the developed world, chances are if you use it, it has lean in it.”
In the early days of muda exploitation (1980 – 2010), the lean conversion industry believed the global supply of muda to be virtually inexhaustible. Based on a limited supply of muda extraction capacity, and a lack of effective models to apply these extraction techniques to government and service sectors, the problem of “peak lean” was seen as a faraway concern. However today the mood has changed.
An recent survey of 7,000 independent lean conversion professionals conducted by the North American Consortium for Holistic Organizational Synergies (NACHOS) appears to support the peak lean advisory from OPLEAS. “The findings confirmed what our members have been telling us for the past few years. They are tapping reserves of muda in peripheral regions and sectors, in some cases ones they thought they would not need to drill into for at least another two, maybe three decades.” said Ameliora Conti, a spokesperson for NACHOS.
As a result of the expected shortage of new fields for muda extraction and the oversupply of lean conversion capacity, in July of this year the average price of the unrefined lean consulting billable hour (abbreviated blb) dropped below $81.49 for the first time since 1985 and continues to hover between $82/blb and $91/blb in the U.S. exchange.
“We thought the hybridization of lean with six sigma would delay peak lean by at least 10 to 15 years,” said F.T. Lavaleurdépée, Director General of 6SSA, a coalition of the top six Six Sigma associations in Europe and North America, “but we were wrong. Oh là là.”
A mysterious phenomenon of “sector jumping” may also be speeding the approach of peak lean. Anders Davidsson, founder of the Society for Limiting In-Process Stock (SLIPS) revealed, “Kanban has leaped like a monkey virus from painted lines on the factory floor to lines of ink on office walls. We never thought kanban could cross the concrete-carpet barrier. SLIPS researchers are in the field looking for correlations of this phenomenon with drops we are seeing in-process stock across all sectors levels worldwide.”
Some have lobbied the government to open up uncharted sectors of the economy to exploration of significant hidden reserves of muda, particularly those so-called black and grey markets. Others have warned against the clear dangers of doing this. The business community has argued that government spending is the best way to create additional reserves of muda, while others advocate unrestrained entrepreneurship.
According to technology columnist Cris Erie, “Innovation is the only answer. We need to create new industries, which will grow rapidly without sufficient organizational or process development, creating opportunities for lean conversion companies to mine them for lean savings once they have grown to a sufficient size.” But innovation may not provide the solution some are hoping for in terms of yielding new sources of muda. This is due to a new muda extraction method known as “the lean startup”.
“It’s the perfect storm,” cried an OPLEAS executive who spoke on condition of anonymity, “We are pulling muda out of organizations faster than organizational inertia can put it back in. It’s like we are riding George Clooney’s fishing boat, sitting on the crest of the wave just as we grasp the meaning of the Miller Curve.”
But there are also dissenting voices to the very idea of peak lean. “People who talk about so-called “peak lean” simply don’t understand what they are measuring,” declares Dale Ville-Loire, author and vocal American critic of peak lean. “Efficiency experts will always find new reserves of muda to exploit. In the accounting field alone we have enough muda to last at least another 200 years, even if we doubled the current rate of extraction.”
Others have asked why OPLEAS analysts were unable to draw these conclusions about the critical level of global muda supply depletion until only recently. A senior OPLEAS analyst Bill Tinkwaliti explained, “On reflection, our analysts were too often on the gemba, away from their data. They did not spend enough time at their desks. Also, we thought the Miller Curve looked just like a normal distribution curve, something we find quite non-threatening.”
Challenged as to whether news of the advanced date for peak lean would cause him to change his own behavior regarding exploitation of the world’s muda supply, Chairman Schpratz replied, “This is something I need discuss with my wife. We are a team.”