Lean is a tool to improve efficiency, it is not something that is a magic bullet! It will not ‘cure’ all the problems that an organisation may face. Lean depends on the people who implement it and if they are not effectual, then the end results will be poor, so there are times when Lean will fail.
Lean and The Toyota Production System
The ‘God’ of Lean historically was the Toyota Production System, which first introduced Lean as a way of ensuring that the business became more successful. For years its status was not questioned; Toyota used Lean, they were successful, therefore Lean was a good thing.
Then in 2010 the wheels came off and Toyota suddenly found that they were the subject of worldwide media attention: Toyota cars were experiencing significant levels of defects and people had died as a result.
Opponents of Lean felt that it was a combined birthday and Christmas present: their point was proved, Lean was not good, because Toyota had become so Lean that it had sacrificed quality and instead Lean and efficiency had taken over.
Ostensibly this is a convincing argument. However, it is worth looking more closely at this issue. In a sense Toyota failed because it was actually too successful. It had become the No.1 car manufacturer in just a few decades and Lean had played a huge part in making this happen.
So the blame for Toyota experiencing some difficulties could be blamed at the fact that it had grown too big, too quick. Its growth rate had not been sustainable. Lean was not the reason that it had difficulties, so Lean cannot be used as the scapegoat.
Waste and Sustainability
Increasingly we live in a world where there is a growing awareness of the fact that resources in the world are finite. Indeed if the worst predictions come true, resources may soon become scarce. So companies and businesses are being encouraged to become more sustainable and to make better use of resources so they are not squandered.
Thus there is a trend to ensure that businesses do not overuse resources and this fits in well with Lean, so there are good business reasons to implement Lean, to prove ‘green’ credentials in addition to being a good business.
Lean And The Public Sector
Increasingly Lean is being used by public sector bodies such as the Scottish Parliament or the NHS. Historically they have had a poor record with regard to waste, but after implementing Lean, substantial savings have been made and less public money has been wasted, so there is clear evidence to prove that implementing Lean practices will save companies and the public sector, significant levels of money!
Lean Does Work
To assert that Lean does not work flies in the face of strong evidence that companies can save money, reduce overheads and ensure that they stay buoyant even in difficult economic times.
It is illogical to assert that it doesn’t work because it is fundamental to ensuring that businesses keep a competitive edge over their competitors and its use has spread almost worldwide over the last 2 decades, so it has been well tried and tested.
Given the difficult economic times that have been experienced of late, it is likely that Lean thinking will be implemented throughout all different sectors and will ensure that waste is reduced in various forms!