Theological Debates

A frequent topic in the forums is some version of “what is the difference between lean and ____” where the blank is one of the industry buzzwords. Some of the common ones are various prefixes to “Sigma.” Others are old standards such as TQM, SPC, TOC, etc. These discussions are always interesting as the various camps line up. “Lean looks at waste, while xxx-Sigma looks at variation” is a common one. Apparently “Agile” is about high-tech machinery, and of course, none of that is found in “lean.”

My put on all of this is pretty simple. It’s all the same, people.

There is nothing about TPS that excludes any level of machining technology, so long as that technology is applied as a solution to a problem rather than for its own sake. The last time I checked, Toyota, and TPS, were obsessive about stamping out variation. Constraints? Yup. You bet I know what the constraint is, and you bet I manage it tightly. If I have done everything right, my enterprise constraint is production (rather than sales), but just barely. And internally, if I have done it right, my constraint is manual work rather than technology. Why? Because every Team Member can work on improving manual work cycles. Not the case with an engineering constraint.

In the end, this is all about the rational, deliberate application of skilled problem solving, using the scientific method, aka PDCA.

If you are looking at “which one to implement” stop fretting about it. Go out to your work area, stand and watch a while, see what is stopping your good people from doing a great job, and start fixing it.

One Reply to “Theological Debates”

  1. This article reminds me of one of my first impressions about Lean. I’ve been working in manufacturing for two years. And I never heard of Lean until 18 months ago. When I first started working with Lean and continuous improvement systems, I remember I got somewhat confused. There were so many techniques, tools, principles, ideas and rules that I was afraid that I could not learn and remember them all. I was new to manufacturing and new to Lean.

    During one Kaizen event I stepped back for one day and began to observe the operation that we were trying to apply Lean to. I watched how the operation functioned. I immediately became aware of several things that could be done to improve the operation. Where did these idea come from??? Being new to manufacturing and new to Lean, how could I have come up with these ideas???

    Then it hit me. I realized that Lean is simply the application of common sense in a structured way. Lean provides a way to communicate my common sense ideas. Lean provides a way for the workers to communicate their common sense ideas.

    The reason this hit me as an interesting observation was that I kept expecting Lean to tell me how to fix the process. Lean, Six Sigma and other continuous improvement systems will not fix any process. People and common sense fix processes. Lean helps explain and structure the approach, but people create the solutions to the problems.

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