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Let Your Lean Manufacturing Definition Drive Implementation

2 minutes, 28 seconds read

What’s in a word? Everything, when that word is driving your organization’s workflow.

As Rever CEO Errette Dunn explains in his Introduction to Lean Manufacturing, it’s important to start your Lean manufacturing approach with a clear definition of Lean. This definition will define your implementation approach. Yet too often definitions of Lean are vague or miss the mark entirely.

For example:

  • The most philosophical definitions of Lean describe it as an ideal for creating value and developing people.
  • Some define Lean manufacturing as a collection of tools—value stream mapping, poke-yoke, etc.
  • Another frequent definition claims that Lean is essentially basic, commonsense industrial engineering (not the case at all).

The problem here is that a misunderstanding of the goals of Lean can prevent an organization from deriving the true benefits. The definitions addressed above can lead to major challenges:

  • Organizations with a philosophical definition of Lean may struggle with a pragmatic implementation plan.
  • Focusing Lean on its technical tools may cause companies to struggle in securing top management buy-in or driving the change in mindset required to make these practices succeed.
  • Describing Lean as traditional industrial engineering guarantees that nothing will change.

Most importantly, a strong definition of Lean manufacturing should be actionable by everyone in the company. Not just top management and not just people on the shop floor operations, but everyone, every day.

Lean defined

Here at Rever, we define Lean manufacturing like this:

Lean is both an ideal and the means to achieve this ideal. The ideal is to produce to the end customer what he or she wants in the right moment, of the right quality, at the right time, in the right amount. Nothing more (because that leads to waste) and nothing less. The means to achieve this ideal is the practice of Kaizen to develop people, improve processes and maximize value for the customer.

The Lean ideal typically translates into one-piece flow or one-piece production, as opposed to large-batch mass production. The Lean means typically translates into reducing waste, reducing overburden, and reducing variation through improved processes.

Lean manufacturing aims to produce only what the customer wants, just in time, alleviating any other source of waste. It’s an alternative to mass production, which seeks to minimize the unit cost of produced components through economies of scale. But the problem with large batch sizes is they reduce a company’s flexibility and generate enormous inventories, which are not only costly but also can hide other production problems. All of this has a cost, which is absorbed by the end-user.

Define your goals

Before implementing Lean manufacturing, it’s important to get to the heart of it what you’re seeking to achieve. Anything less can lead to failure.

For more insight on creating achievable goals, watch our full Introduction to Lean Manufacturing.

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