Lean Manufacturing

Selecting a Management and Improvement System

By Jon Miller Published on December 28th, 2006

Lean manufacturing is a system for managing and improving production operations. More broadly, Lean manufacturing principles can be applied to manage and improve any type of operation from healthcare to service and distribution, as we are increasingly seeing. But how does a decision maker select the appropriate management and improvement system when faced with many choices such as Lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, TOC, QRM, DFT or any hybrid?
A system is not only a set of tools but the ways in which you use them (what we call habits). If we think of management and improvement systems like Lean manufacturing as being analogous to software systems or to technologies, we can use similar selection and evaluation criteria.
Assuming that the promised costs and benefits from a faithful implementation of Lean manufacturing and other systems are more or less equal, the decision maker may find these questions useful when considering an investment in a management and improvement system:
1. Ease of use. How well is the user interface designed around the human? Does it enhance safety, creativity, job satisfaction as well as productivity? Does it put people first or the system first?
2. Learning curve. How much time and effort does it take to become competent in the new system? How quickly can everyone be trained in the basic workings of the system?
3. Portability. How easy is it for me to take this system I learned to another department? To another factory? To another job?
4. Compatibility. How well does it work with other functioning tools or systems that are in place? What incompatibilities need to be addressed in the short and mid-term?
5. Fullness of features. How complete is this system? How broadly can I apply it? How soon will I need an “upgrade” or plug-ins to fill in the missing features?
While Lean manufacturing is not a technology as such, these are the types of questions often asked during the technology selection process. It’s a bit ironic that Lean manufacturing scores so highly on the five point evaluation above, yet has a strong bias towards the low-tech solution such as visual management systems instead of software dashboards. What does that say about technology?

  1. Rodrigues

    December 29, 2006 - 3:10 am

    Here in Brazil we are starting the first step in Lean knowledge and is not easy to understand how to improve fast and easily the Lean philosophy.

  2. hornyak peter

    January 2, 2007 - 10:07 am

    Could you recommend a book or a handbook to learn more about Lean? I’m a beginner for using Lean .

  3. Dennis

    March 27, 2007 - 3:48 am

    For information on lean, start with Womack and Jones’ “Lean Thinking”, it’s the bible of lean.

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