The Prospects for Lean
As we all return to work in the New Year, I wanted to provide a few thoughts on the prospects for lean thinking in the years ahead.
Let’s begin with some good news: Process thinking is going to be a growth industry as global manufacturing grows. Many of you may have been startled to read recently the report of a Wall Street analyst that manufacturing employment across the world is falling and will fall from this point forward, just the way employment in farming has steadily declined. The problem with this argument is that it takes the recent drop in global manufacturing employment – due to the recession in North America, Europe, and Japan, and the dramatic restructuring of formerly protected manufacturing industries in China, India, and Russia – and extrapolates this as a straight line to the future.
A simple analysis of the amount of goods that consumers across the world will be demanding in the next few decades – particularly as China, India, and many other countries race to close the standard-of-living gap with the developed countries – suggests something very different. If you multiply the amount of goods demanded by the number of employee hours of effort needed to make each unit of goods, even using the leanest methods, you discover that manufacturing jobs on a global scale will grow, not shrink. (We’ll soon be providing an analysis of these trends on the LEI website.) That’s good news for lean thinkers because most of us today make a living thinking how managers and production associates can manufacture goods more efficiently.
Here’s some better news: Process thinking has truly profound growth prospects outside of manufacturing. Most of what humans do at work is to operate routine processes – in the office in every manufacturing company and in every aspect of health care, finance, communications, transport, construction, distribution, retail, etc. Yet even the most casual examination of current-day business processes -- including those we encounter in our roles as consumers -- shows that we have hardly scratched the surface in introducing robust Process thinking.
For example, I recently visited an insurance company in the U.S. – Jefferson Pilot -- that has done a stellar job of applying lean thinking to its policy writing Process and its agent certification Process, with remarkable reductions in customer response time, errors, and cost, accompanied by dramatic sales growth. (See “The Lean Service Machine” by Cynthia Swank in the October 2003 Harvard Business Review for the details.) Yet this firm has so far “leaned” only a few of its core processes and most other firms in the insurance industry have not even gotten started. As lean thinking comes forward to do brilliantly what the Process re-engineering movement of a decade ago did so poorly, the need for lean thinkers to tackle knowledge management processes will rise rapidly.
So the best is yet to come, although many lean thinkers, particularly in the developed countries, may need to shift their focus from the factory to the office and other business processes.
With best regards and with high hopes for lean thinking in 2004 and beyond,
President and Founder
Lean Enterprise Institute
The Power of Personal Yokoten
Personal yokoten to teach new mindsets and attitudes is an activity all of us can perform out in the world every day with every manager, team leader, and team we touch, says Jim Womack. He believes we can transfer new, lean ideas about management and leadership in our civic roles and even in our families as we think through tough issues.
The Power of Yokoten
I’ve written a lot about yokoten in recent years – the practice of spreading good (lean) ideas horizontally between and across organizations from their point of initial success (“Yoko” means in Japanese horizontal.) It turns out that this is hard, even for the methods and tools needed to create lean value streams. Lean requires practice, even when the theory is clear and simple, and it’s hard to find enough teachers with enough experience and time to lead the cycles of practice needed for sustainable yokoten.
How A Complete Lean Production System Fuels Global Success
In this article prepared for the 2007 relaunch of the seminal book The Machine that Changed the World, co-author Jim Womack correctly forecast Toyota's rise, and identifes the key elements of a dynamic lean production system.
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- Sustaining Lean Goals by Taking a (Gemba) Walk
- Forward to Fundamentals
- Managing to Learn: Part 1 - How Lean Leaders Create Productive Problem-Solvers
- The Power of Purpose, Process, and People
- Lean Management & the Role of Lean Leadership
- Lean Solutions