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Mike Micklewright

Quality Insider

Which Way Do You Lean?

Think about it!

Published: Monday, November 26, 2007 - 22:00

Question: How is lean like making whoopee?

Answer: I don’t know. I just wanted you to open the article. However …

Send me your funny answer. I’ll choose the best answer, that’s not too dirty or offensive, and perhaps it’ll be published in my next article two months from now. You’ll be famous! The winner will also receive a free copy of my new video “BATCHIN’ Why Something So Wrong Can Seem So Right,” a $195 value. (For more information, visit www.mikemick.com/video_main.htm)

This article will take a different twist. (Of course, all of my articles take a different twist, so if they are all different, I guess they are all the same.)

The purpose of this article is to ask you questions about how well you and your company truly live lean. Is it a farce or do you really believe in it and live it?

Lean at work

  • Many kaizen events take 3–5 days. Is this not a batch of improvement activities to get rid of batching?
  • Do you have a lean department? Is it getting bigger? Lean experts? Isn’t this anti-lean? Isn’t everyone responsible for quality, effectiveness, and efficiency?
  • Are all of your kaizen events lead by lean experts? Isn’t this anti-lean? Does this show respect for the people who are doing the work?
  • If lean is about reducing waste, has your company established an environmental management system (perhaps based on ISO 14001) to reduce environmental and natural resource waste? Are you not trying to eliminate waste of natural resources?
  • If we as a country are pursuing lean, why isn’t natural resource preservation a higher priority? Why isn’t eliminating resource and environmental waste a major part of any lean initiative?
  • Do you learn in batches (i.e. annual conferences, training classes, one-week-at-a-time lean Six Sigma courses)? Isn’t just-in-time training better?
  • Does your company use lean tools haphazardly (do 5S here or there) or does it first determine problem areas or opportunities for improvement, then determine root causes and a course of action, which might include one of the lean tools?
  • Do you have different people heading up lean, Six Sigma, and/or ISO 9001? Isn’t this anti-lean? Are they not all trying to do the same thing—improve your operations? Are employees confused about whether to initiate a corrective action, a preventive action, a kaizen event, a value stream mapping project, or Six Sigma project? This can’t be good, can it?
  • Are performance reviews done at the end of the year in one big batch as an output after the fact, or is leadership provided everyday, in single flow?

Lean and quality management systems (QMS)

  • Do you have controls in place to ensure that your quality-management system (QMS) documents don’t get too big, out of control, un-user-friendly?
  • Do you have too many documents, too many words per document? Is this not the same as a lot of inventory, which is anti-lean and causes defects in the system?
  • When is the last time you 5Sed your documentation system?
  • How long does it take for someone to revise a procedure or work instruction? If it takes more than one day, is this lean? Have you used the concepts of quick changeover or single minute exchange of documents (SMED) on your document change process?
  • Are your lean processes integrated into your QMS so that they may be taught to new employees and modified internally when your company wishes to improve the improvement processes?
  • Are your value stream managers and process owners not the same people? Shouldn’t they be? What’s the difference?
  • Are your work instructions, standard work, and visual aids not one and the same? Is there duplication? Is this not wasteful? Are those documents controlled?

Lean at home

  • Do you have central air conditioning? In the spirit of lean, shouldn’t you have several smaller air conditioning units instead of one massive machine?
  • How about the hot air (not yours) and hot water in your house? Are these centrally located and centrally distributed? How much water is wasted in the morning while you wait for hot water?
  • Are your dirty clothes stored in a large hamper with a lot of other clothes (inventory)? Do you lose socks as a result?
  • Do you do your laundry in big batches and turn the washer setting to large load (large inventory)?
  • What is the average time (lead time) of a piece of clothing going into a hamper and the time it is placed into your closet ready for wearing? Do you monitor this?
  • What about the dishwashing process, the food-buying process, the writing-out bills process, the spring-cleaning process, the house-cleaning process, the landscaping process? Are these not all done in batches? Do you ever wonder why we waste so much at home?
  • When is the last time you 5Sed your closet, your drawers (in any room), your garage, your computer, your basement, your kitchen?

Lean and your health

  • Do you eat three batches of food a day? Do you sleep in one big batch? Do you exercise in one big batch each day? Doctors say that all of these activities would be best performed in smaller batches throughout the day rather than in larger batches.  Why don’t we? Perhaps we can!

  • Do you have a total productive maintenance (TPM) program on your body?

  • Do you ingest wasteful inputs that result in unstable lifestyle processes, such as cigarettes, excessive alcohol, excessive foods, overprocessed foods, fatty foods, prescription drugs, nonprescription drugs?
  • Did you attempt to determine the root cause of why you or your children are obese, have anxiety, are ADD, have trouble in school, have high blood pressure, are autistic, or are constantly sick, before taking prescribed medicine?

Lean and self-reliance

  • Does your company rely on outsourcing for driving out cost? As Bill Waddell and Norman Bodek wrote in the Rebirth of American Industry (PCS Press, 2005), “Outsourcing is not lean manufacturing. It is Quitting.” Isn’t relying on China and India making the United States more reliant on them and less self-reliant?
  • Is our country as self-reliant as it could be? Do we rely too much on foreign oil and other resources? Do we rely on foreign countries to manufacture our military parts? Is this smart?
  • Do you buy Six Sigma and lean training? Why can’t your company establish its own principles and develop its own style, its own tools, its own methodologies? Don’t you have smart leaders who can do so?
  • Have you ever determined the root cause of Toyota’s success? Have you not considered that one of the root causes of their success is that they are self-reliant? Have you not considered that by trying to become more like Toyota, your company is becoming less like Toyota?

Toyota didn’t copy methodologies, they learned principles and developed their own methodologies. As Thomas Jefferson is said to have stated, “Be flexible in style, but unwavering, like a rock, in principles.” The style is the tools of lean, the principles oftentimes are not addressed.

Do Americans really get lean? Or are we just copying tools without adopting principles, at home and at work? It’s time to reflect!


About The Author

Mike Micklewright’s picture

Mike Micklewright

Mike Micklewright has been teaching and facilitating quality and lean principles worldwide for more than 25 years. He specializes in creating lean and continuous improvement cultures, and has implemented continuous improvement systems and facilitated kaizen/Six Sigma events in hundreds of organizations in the aerospace, automotive, entertainment, manufacturing, food, healthcare, and warehousing industries. Micklewright is the U.S. director and senior consultant for Kaizen Institute. He has an engineering degree from the University of Illinois, and he is ASQ-certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt, quality auditor, quality engineer, manager of quality/operational excellence, and supply chain analyst.

Micklewright hosts a video training series by Kaizen Institute on integrating lean and quality management systems in order to reduce waste.