Is Lean dead?

Is Lean dead? is the provocative title of a podcast hosted by Mark Graban with guest Karen Martin. The question, the podcast description says, is “easy to discuss, but hard to answer”.

The reason Karen proposed to discuss this question is because of hearing and reading about “what’s next”, “is it time for something new?” and what seems to be a waiting for a “post-Lean” world.

There is an invitation to share thoughts about this, but instead of leaving a comment on Mark’s podcast-related post, I add my two cents here. I hope Mark and Karen won’t mind this piggybacking.

Some takeaways from the podcast

From 4:35 Karen frames the topic and from 6:05 she shares her thoughts, especially two reasons for the “what’s next?” question (rephrased by me):

  1. people don’t get great results from Lean and quit too early with the conclusion Lean doesn’t work
  2. the attention span, especially in business, is (very) short

By 19:45, Karen reminds the listeners that Lean is made of layers of quite “meaty” subjects and is made for constant learners. Yet Lean teaching programs cannot (?) do not go very deep into Lean beyond chosen tools. So it’s up to everyone to go for a never-ending learning journey. At 43:00 listeners get the wrap-up.

My thoughts on this

Ironically, the introduction of new methods and tools was once mocked as “the flavor of the month” with the preconceived belief that it won’t last. Now that Lean has demonstrated a longer lifespan than other management ways, it seems to be precisely too lasting in a time where  fashions come and go very quickly.

The methodologies life cycle

However long Lean is around now, it follows the same life cycle curve than others, made of a slow takeoff as long as long as no organization publicized extraordinary achievements with this approach or no book draw wider attention to it. Once the word spread, the methodology gets hype and many organizations and consultants go for it. After the hype spike, there is a loss of interest and a final plateau. In this later stage the methodology does not totally disappear but does not get the attention it once had.

In that regard, the methodologies life cycles look very much like Gartner’s hype cycle for technologies.

I started my career in the midst of Total Quality Management (TQM) hype, in the mid-1980s. Who aged less than 40 knows about TQM? It is still around in some form, like in the various ISO standards, but it does not get the excitement of the all the problem solving tools deployment TQM once had.

Similarly what happened to Total Productive Maintenance (TPM)? Parts of it is embedded in Lean and some companies keep TPM alive, but I barely hear anything about it anymore.

My friend and mentor Bill Dettmer witnessed the same phenomenon with Theory of Constraints. Not totally gone now, but barely known and not likely to get its fame back again. Six Sigma is said to be dead or is reduced to SIPOCs and DMAIC.

So maybe time has come for Lean to lose attention of the mass and remain a thing for true believers?

Quick wins and newcomers

The impatience about the post-Lean next thing can also come from the younger staff that did not experience the first attempts with Lean, when the organization was so inefficient that almost any structured tool deployment and kaizen events demonstrated significant quick wins. After a while and continuous sustained efforts, the remaining pockets of gains are few and hard/long to address. Newcomers experience Lean from hearsay or don’t notice anything about Lean because they are amidst of a more or less Lean environment. It’s just part of the scenery and nothing to get excited about.

Furthermore, many people have been repeatedly exposed to Lean methods and tools, have been involved in Lean workshops, kaizen events, sketched Value Stream Maps and identified wastes, sorted out, cleaned up and rearranged stuff 5S style. They share the feeling of being Lean, of being done with Lean.

The startup praise of failing fast and pivoting

My last thought about the possible fading of Lean is the growing influence of the startup movement and the praise of failing fast and pivoting. It keeps surprising me that failure can be praised, even so I understand the value of learning from failures. One Undesirable side Effect though may be the spreading of the belief that anything that does not work quickly is a failure – ok, we learned something – and it’s time to move on with something else.

Pivoting is getting away from an original idea that does not prove good fast enough and go for something else that can be 90 or 180 degrees from the original intent. What can make sense in a startup venture, stopping the experiment before the scarce resources are burnt up, may not be the suitable option where long commitment to cultural change and constant learning is required.

With allusion to Kahneman’s work, I think that for business there is a fast way and a slow one, and Lean is definitely a slow one.

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Future of Lean: is a robotic motion a waste?

Motion and transportation count among the 7 basic muda or wastes, that should be eliminated or at least reduced to their bare minimum in order to be leaner.

Now, with the probable rise of robotics, will robotic motion (and transportation) still be considered a waste?

The Lean definition of waste is any consumption of resources, including time, that does not add value. Motion and transportation do not transform nor modify parts or products to something of greater value for customers.

If the transportation means or resources used to move parts or products change to high-tech solutions, the definition of waste remains valid. They may reduce the related time, the strain on human operators, be autonomous but whatever, moving or transporting something is still a (necessary) waste.

The same applies for robotic motions. Thanks to their multi axis construct, robots may be more efficient in motions than humans, thus reducing time, nevertheless, the motion remains a waste.

What about vacuum cleaning robot,robotic lawn mowers or autonomous vehicles?

These devices deliver a service a customer is ready to pay for: having a clean floor, a cut lawn or being transported somewhere. In the current state of technology, there is no way around a moving device.

I am not aware of self cleaning flooring and clean room solutions may not be affordable for households.

Motion and transportation are in those cases part of the value-adding process. That said, if the vacuum cleaner, lawn mower or autonomous car travels more than necessary for purpose, the excess motion/transportation is… a waste.

Any thoughts to share? Use the comments.


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We are all Lean now. What’s next?

Every once in a while, for nearly 30 years, the question arises: “what’s the next big thing after Lean?”, suggesting that the askers are done with Lean. We write July of 2016 and it seems that everybody is Lean now.

Many people have been repeatedly exposed to Lean methods and tools, have been involved in Lean workshops, kaizen events, sketched Value Stream Maps and identified wastes, sorted out, cleaned up and rearranged stuff 5S style.

They have seen improvements, celebrated the workshop’s success and were dismissed with a feeling of mission accomplished. Others didn’t see a clear outcome, noticeable improvement or a sustainable result and resumed their regular work.

Both may have a legit feeling of being done with Lean, the first because their objectives were met, the latter because Lean doesn’t work.

Almost everybody has heard about Lean, in good or bad, in manufacturing or administration, in hospitals or software development. Lean is a word that found its way into the business lingo, and hearing it often makes it familiar.

There is also the growing impatience as everything speeds up and the instant satisfaction sought by everyone becomes commonplace. Few people are able to commit to a very long and tedious journey towards excellence in the Lean way, most would prefer periodical quantum leaps. Just as they replace their smartphone from one model/generation to the next, keeping up with fashion or state-of-the-art technology.

Of course we are far from done with Lean and very very few companies I’ve visited can claim being Lean. Nevertheless I can understand the fading interest in Lean and the need to reinvigorate it with something new and effective.

Something new means something new to people they didn’t know about until now, not necessarily new per se. Effective means bringing positive results system-wide, not a local optimisation.

My advice would be to consider Throughput Accounting, Critical Chain Project Management and the Logical Thinking Process.

This is not about the next big thing AFTER Lean but the next big thing WITH Lean!

Throughput Accounting (TA) is not really accounting but rather a Throughput-based decision-making approach. In a nutshell, TA shifts focus from cost reduction to Throughput increase and optimization. Follow this link to know more.

Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) revisits Critical Path Method, the prevalent project management method that failed so far to get developers and project teams to finish on time. CCPM makes sure that projects finish on time and that, thanks to continuous improvement Lean and CCPM style, project durations can be shortened in future.

Logical Thinking Process (LTP) copes with system-wide complex problems. It provides logical tools and methods to surface and neutralize false assumptions, beliefs, conflicting objectives and the like that hinders the organization achieving its goal.

Giving a try with any or all TA, CCPM and LTP, will reveal new potentials and focusing points for Lean to exploit them. Lean isn’t gone soon.


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Future of Lean and additive manufacturing

In a previous post titled “How much non-added value additive manufacturing can take out of actual processes?” my prospective thinking was all about technological disruptions and the impact on companies.

The same question is valid for the future of Lean. If as I assume much of the non-added value can be taken out of actual processes by additive manufacturing, what will be left for lean practitioners to work on?

Whole processes could be reduced to 3D printers or equivalent*, taking out lots of costs and non-value added. But what may be really shocking in near future could be to reconsider what we assumed being added-value in traditional manufacturing, e.g. cutting away material by lathing, milling, etc.

*3D printers stand here for a generic expression for additive manufacturing techniques and machines. 3D printers are already well-known from the public, therefore it makes it easier at present time to refer to additive manufacturing as 3D printing.

These processes transformed raw material in something of higher value, but at expense of a lot of energy, capital and material, like shavings, for example.

With the new perspective of additive manufacturing techniques, raw material will be used in just necessary quantity, most of the energy will really be used to “add” value and almost all of the manufacturing cycle time will be added value time.

Even the non-added value that cannot be suppressed – a former colleague of mine positively calls it “value enabling” – like all the fragmentation of the process between different techniques/machines, hand-offs, transfer, wip, etc. may simply disappear or at least seriously shrink.

Value Streams will become shorter and efficient, some Value Stream Maps limited to the order input and 3D printer!

While today about 2% of the lead time is usually added value, in near future it could soar up to 80% or more!

Future of Lean, Lean in the future, what is your point of view?

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Lean in digital age: sensors and data

In near future, technology and especially connected objects – smart things stuffed with sensors and so-called wearable devices – will supercharge Lean improvements.

One example of such already used device is given in a Mark Graban podcast about Hand Hygiene & Patient Safety. In this podcast (Episode #205), Mark’s guest Joe Schnur, VP Business Development at Intelligent M, explains how his wearable solution called smart band, (see video below) helps gather huge amount of accurate data compared to human observer with a clipboard.

You may listen to the whole podcast or skip to 13:30 and more specifically to 15:00 to hear about the wearable smart band, 21:50 about the data gathering.
http://www.leanblog.org/2014/07/podcast-205-joe-schnur-hand-hygiene-patient-safety/

Human observer has its limitations as to what information he/she can catch and how accurately it can be done. Think about fast events occurring often and/or tasks not easy to watch because of the layout. Human observations are therefore often limited to ticks on a pre-formated check sheet.

As human observers are high cost (compared to newer technology), they are used in limited number, during limited time and usually with sampling techniques.

Appropriate technology can gather many data for a single event: temperature, motions, duration, acceleration, applied force and what ever embedded sensors are designed for. These devices capture everything of each event, not only samples.

The cost per data point is obviously in favor of technology, not only because of quantity of data but also its quality (read accuracy). In near future the cost of these technologies will further drop, making automatic data collection available almost for free.

The mass of data captured allows using big data techniques, even so data scientists may smile at the “big” in this specific case. Nevertheless, with more smart objects and sensors everywhere (Internet of Things, Smart factories, etc.), the flood of data will grow really big and allow process mining, correlation search on a huge sets of parameters and more.

I am convinced that in near future, most of Value Stream Maps will be generated automatically and updated real time by such kind of devices/data sets, with ability to zoom in on details or zoom out for a broader view at will, and more.

The same systems will be able to pre-analyze and dynamically spot bottlenecks and sub-optimized parts in the process, make suggestions for improvements if not corrections by themselves.

  • Artificial intelligence with machine learning ability will suggest improvements based on scenarios stored in their literally infinite memory or on their predictions about potential problems.
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) will be made by objects communicating and interacting with each other.

What is likely to come are intelligent monitoring systems for any process, that build and maintain themselves, hence smart factories.

So, when Lean goes digital to that point, what will be left to humans?

This is a topic for a next post and an opportunity for you to give your opinion in a comment.

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You may also be interested by my series about What jobs in the factory of the future?

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How much non-added value additive manufacturing can take out of actual processes?

It is a well-known fact: the sequence of all activities required to bring a product to a customer is called a value stream and despite the name, value does not flow smoothly nor swiftly along streamlined processes. Value streams are cluttered with non-added value processes, tasks and steps, so-called wastes.

Traditional manufacturing processes aren’t very efficient especially when several different techniques are required e.g. cutting, lathing, milling, drilling, welding, deburring, assembling, painting, etc.

All these machines require energy and floor space. The more complex the process, the more energy and space is required.

This remains true even if the process is partly subcontracted, which adds more transportation and management costs, maybe additional quality controls.

In such processes there are many hands-off and transportations between machines and work posts, the different operation require different skills, thus a staff of qualified workers.

Production is launched in batches in order to have some economies of scale but with carryover costs and all the trouble related to WIP and inventories.

Of course lead time is dependent on the number of operations and the process’ efficiency. Measured in time ratio, the added-value time to total Lead time ratio is often around 2% (poor efficiency) and around 10% (?) at best.

Customers pay for all this as until recently there was no alternative. Yet a tremendous change will affect some industries / businesses with additive manufacturing.

With these new techniques, when relevant and possible, the part or product is created in a single process by adding (“3D printing”) material one thin layer after another.

So how much non-added value additive manufacturing can take out of actual processes?

Well, considering the examples given above, I’d say a lot of handling, storing, energy, floor space, capital frozen in inventories and WIP, manpower costs, a large share of overhead, capital for different machines, lot of floor space and related costs (heating, cooling, light, locker rooms and other “social” rooms).

For the industries and businesses that will be threatened by the rise of these new manufacturing techniques, the disruption can be tsunami-like. Think of all the barriers to entry suddenly disappearing for new challengers and the irony of established companies, if caught unprepared, being suddenly locked-out from their own markets!

Some companies may not be able to switch quickly from traditional to additive manufacturing. It will probably take them some time to get the new know-how, find a suitable business model and get rid of assets that became a burden; machines, buildings and… some of the workforce. If additive manufacturing techniques supersedes traditional ones, companies that couldn’t manage the turnaround will be pushed out of their markets.

For customers it should be good news: cost and lead time should drop significantly while customization makes a giant leap.

Sad for those who will lose.

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You may also be interested in reading more posts about the factory of the future, like How disruptive 3D printing can be or Will 3D printing revitalize strategic analysis?


How lean can help shaping the future – Value Stream Design

When thinking about planning or shaping the future, most people believe it requires very complicated means, software or science. The reality is deceivingly simple as it takes pens, paper and analytical skills.

Therefore when it comes to answer the question “How lean can help shaping the future”, the simplest and most common way is when people involved in a workgroup of transformation program design a future, improved situation through Value Stream Design (VSD).

From actual to future (improved) state

Depiction and analysis of the actual state of a Value Stream uses Value Stream Mapping (VSM). This mapping uses symbols or pictograms to describe processes, physical and information flows. The actual process, depicted with all its flaws, dysfunctions and improvement potentials is analyzed in search for a better, improved process.

Thus, once the map of actual state is drawn and improvements found, the sketch of the future improved state is done with a similar map, called Value Stream Design (VSD).

VSM and VSD don’t need much high-tech, a roll of brown paper and pens are enough.

The way to bridge the gap between VSM and VSD or to transform the actual state into the future improved one is the action plan.

Sometimes it requires a somewhat more conceptual step in between, like a Goal Tree or a Hoshin Kanri to identify and plan breakthroughs, before listing all necessary underlying actions in an action plan.

Nevertheless, the simplest and most common way for Lean to help shaping the future remains the Value Stream Design (VSD). It is not because it is relatively simple that it is not powerful or interesting.

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>More about How Lean can help shaping the future


Lean in the digital age: free apps

Lean-educated people will consider value as something a customer is ready to pay for because the product or service has some value from his/her point of view.
Lean-educated people will consider to use just-needed resources and avoid unnecessary storage.
But what about free or almost free apps for smartphones and tablets?
Do the Lean principles apply on the digital side?

Value vs price

Apps come for free or for little money. Not a big deal if a free app is not keeping its promises (most do though, I believe), it’s easy to get rid of it and it didn’t cost a thing. Users may be pickier about apps to purchase, but for less a currency unit a piece, who really cares?

Regardless of their price, many apps are real values. I manage my virtual train tickets and journeys via a well-designed and totally free app provided by the French national railway. I use the equivalent for optimizing my rides on subway, bus, tramway and suburb trains in Paris. Another great free app.

I read newspapers excerpts, listen to podcasts, watch educational videos, all provided for free, in some cases with a minor nuisance of advertising, the counterpart for apps being “free”.

As many smartphone / tablet owners, I have dozens of them.

The perceived value / cost ratio is almost infinite. Something impossible in the material world. So great value “nobody” pays for exists. Time to reflect on the Lean-definition of value..!

Just needed resources

Most of the time not-so-useful and never used-again apps will remain on smartphones and tablets, as long as storage space is not a problem. And it takes lots of apps before they turn into a problem of storage space.

Many Lean principles-aware people I know are real collectors of apps. Useful ones and most doubtful ones. The ones they use constantly and those fancy they once installed, tried, forgot and never deleted.

In strict Lean terms this would be waste. But is it?

Waste of what? A few high-definition pictures taken with the smartphone or tablet occupy more memory space than all apps.
Clutter on the screen? No problem, icons can be rearranged and ordered at will. When it’s difficult to retrieve a seldom used app, just type a search.
Battery life? Yes some apps may shorten it, but those energy drainers can be shut off: GPS location, Wi-fi and Bluetooth, etc.

Act of faith

Consider a Lean-educated promoter trying to convert a digital native to apply Lean principles on his favorite geek tools, I bet he/she would have trouble to demonstrate the rationale behind it.

Keeping Lean principles alive with a smartphone or a tablet, if no in the digital age at large, looks to me as an act of faith.


Related: Minimum Viable Product or just crap?

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How lean can help shaping the future? Introduction

Lean, no doubt, is a powerful proven business management system with long track record of success stories (and probably as many failed attempts).

In 60 years, Lean made it slowly from Lean Manufacturing to Lean Thinking and Lean Management, from small improvement experiments in industrial workshops to worldwide shared Body of Knowledge.

Despite all the experience gathered and shared, the numerous good books, papers, testimonies or seminars, the application of Lean concepts is still as it was in its early days. Most of those starting Lean initiatives seek cost savings and/or performance improvement and still consider Lean as a well-furnished toolbox. They try to fix broken and poorly designed processes, bailing water faster rather than fixing the leaks.

Chris HOHMANN

Author Chris HOHMANN

Sadly, Lean seldom made it into management age, but keep stuck in the tool age as Jim Womack would put it, being “used” as it was in its early days, or as Mike Rother expresses it: “Lean seems stuck in the 20th Century, for instance focused almost exclusively on efficiency, and that there is a 21st-Century Lean that encompasses a wider range of human endeavor.“

It seems to me that most organizations using Lean run backwards into their future – which is risky and suboptimal enough – and do not anticipate the disruptions that lay ahead.

Innovations in technologies, societal changes and stiffer regulations for example will lead us into a near future where past experience will be only a limited help.

I think about machines able to learn from their own experience, processes able to configure and adjust themselves dynamically to respond to customers’ demands, power plants going into safe mode long before human supervisors would notice any problems, far better sales forecasts, ever smaller production batches and new ways to manufacture, using 3D printing for example.

Factories of the future will have to blend into residential areas, because of lack of space or simply because employees long commuting time is huge waste of time and energy. These factories must be energy efficient, limit all their pollution (noise, fumes, scrap…) and may be mobile device-controlled by only a handful of highly skilled personnel, few workers sharing their job with collaborative robots (cobots).

Science fiction? Not at all, no more. Search the Web for terms like “smart factories” or “industry 4.0” to get a glimpse into the future.

This brings (at least) two questions about Lean:

  1. Will lean survive the fourth industrial revolution? a topic I discuss in >this post<
  2. How Lean can help shaping the future?

This post is an introduction to a prospective thinking about these topics

Related

Feel free to share your thoughts and comments!

How lean can help shaping the future ? Lean engineering

Before searching about new high-tech disruptive innovation* let us reflect how lean thinking and lean tools were used so far.

*read my ‘Technologies alone will not regain competitive advantage‘ post

Every time an organization was exposed to lean concepts, those were used to improve the actual situation, resulting from decisions, practices and behaviors prior to lean introduction. Improvements were numerous and impressive enough to accumulate success stories and prove the power of lean.

Yet many improvements were limited and many impossible to Cary out, letting improvement efforts lingering in the low hanging fruits zone.

The reasons are decisions and options taken in early design phases, which engaged the organization for longer periods. Many conversion costs from actual situation to improved one would be too high and won’t pay off.

Many factories in Europe are located in centennial buildings with layouts having to cope with architectural constraints. Machines and equipment were packed in the available space, sometimes spread over several floors and over different buildings.

  • Even more recent factories I’ve helped to improve we’re located in remote places, in former backyard of founder’s home, in mountain village, in the midst of the Black Forest…
  • One of the biggest French company’s headquarter is located in a very old former convent.
  • Hospitals have similar backgrounds, layouts too often are nightmare to everyone, from visitors, patients, to staff and logistics.

All those locations may be lovely places but most of them are unfit for seamless flows and efficient work. Despite this, many of those locations will be kept for number of reasons good or bad, and will continue to hinder significant improvements.

Greenfield recent factories are generally build with lean concepts and future efficiency in mind, giving them a tremendous competitive advantage over the elder non-lean designed facilities.

Brownfield companies may pay great efforts improving their operations, it will usually not suffice to catch-up with the greenfield competitor.

Henceforth, greenfields are usually smartly located in the heart of the market they serve and hired lean aware workforce and/or trained it intensively, without facing the resistance to change nor lean learning curve.

Process and product improvement face similar problems: many decisions and options taken in early design phases constrain their design and evolution for long periods, sometimes during their entire lifetime.

Problems that drive workers crazy or require extra work, poor ergonomics and quality issues just remain because conversion costs would not pay off. Think about a mold or die modification, shape redesign, material change with all qualification process to go through again, etc.

What is left to improve is fetching the tool to correct a defect faster instead of preventing the defect.

So how can Lean help shaping the future?

Lean engineering in one way. My understanding of Lean engineering is using lean concepts, methods and tools to both improve engineering performance AND embed lean into designed products and processes to ensure future efficiency in manufacturing, delivery, servicing, etc.

While the first part – improving engineering performance – strives to reduce the time-to-market and design and engineering costs, the second part strives to put latter phases like manufacturing in best possible conditions to be efficient.

Therefore, all painfully lessons learned in manufacturing should be taken into account for the next design, frontloading issues to be solved and problems to be prevented. In the early design phases, lean thinking should help to design and build-in future sustainable performance. Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DFMA) is one way.

While many designers may claim doing it, in reality they face great pressure to design-to-cost and speed-up to deliver products fast. Design-to-cost is usually flawed because it ignores the cost of later problem solving, error correction, scrap, rework, inefficiency and so on.

Problem solving and preventing is often ignored for the sake of design and engineering local objectives. But remember, those without memory are committed to repeat the same mistakes.

> More about How Lean can help shaping the future

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