Advanced Lean is Paying Due Respect to Basic Lean

I used to believe there was such a thing as advanced lean. Many people probably still believe this today. How about you?

There are several ways “advanced lean” is used. In an educational context it means “not for beginners.” The content requires the lean learner be further ahead in development or progress. This is useful, but giving it a “301” rather than “101” designation and stating the prerequisite courses is more direct. A second use of “advanced lean” means that an organization is further along a path to maturity and would score higher on an assessment. This yields the paradox that the more “advanced” we are in Lean, the more trained our eyes become and the stricter we score ourselves. We realize that we are striving beginners. A third usage of “advanced lean” is to mean cutting edge, new, or powered-up lean. I don’t believe in this at all, having seen no genuine example of this in two decades of paying attention.

There is a difference between simple and complex Lean. Complex is not to be confused with complicated. Complex does not mean bad or hard.Something that is complex simply has many different connected parts. Reducing motion waste is simple. The 5S system incorporates this and is a little less simple. The SMED system incorporates 5S and a few other elements, but still fairly basic. TPM has SMED built into one of its pillars, and is complex and arguably complicated. One could say each of these is a successively more “advanced” applications of lean than the previous. Nonetheless the tools and building blocks of lean are part of something larger, a system of basic good management.

Creating good flow through a discrete manufacturing process requires an understanding of takt time, cycle time, one-piece flow, layout design principles, downstream pull mechanisms, leveling of mix and demand, and ideally 3P and fit-to-purpose equipment design. This knowledge set is a complex and as a whole, sophisticated set of ideas. It is not something a lean beginner would be expected to quickly grasp. When we need lean to get big results, we often approach it as a series of leaps such as going from disconnected batch processing to a fully mature JIT cell. We often skip over, or bundle up the basics into more complex idea sets. The advantage is that improvement is step-wise, transformational. The disadvantage of deploying “advanced lean” on an organization is that while processes may transform, people cannot keep up with the learning. The flow line is advanced, but the organization remains at basic lean. Before long, the flow line catches up to the organization.

Would a musician refer to a symphony as “advanced music”? It is built on vibrations in the air which make musical notes. Notes make a melody, several voices become a song. Several musical movements become a symphony. With the rare exception of a musical savant, we cannot learn a symphony without first learning the notes. One musician cannot perform a symphony. It requires an orchestra.

There is no such thing as advanced lean. Only you, the practitioner, can “advance” lean through repetition of, and by paying due respect to, lean basics. This requires broadening the engagement in improving daily work. This requires persistence over time. This requires leaders willing to learn how to “improve how we improve”.

1 Comment

  1. Andy Krupp

    June 26, 2017 - 9:06 pm

    I agree with Jon that there is no viable “Advanced Lean” program. All Lean comes from mastery of the basics including recognizing waste, iterative problem solving to eliminate waste, creating of value for the customer and respect for the individual (employees). Beyond these there can be some tools that are more advanced than others but too much the focus of Lean implementation has been on the tools and less on the basic fundamental principles. I feel those that espouse “Advanced Lean” have ventured over to the tools first approach and will end up returning to the basics to get true adoption.
    – Full disclosure I learned a good bit of Lean while living and working in Japan but also while working with Jon… so I may be biased.

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