I recently read an article by Lonnie Wilson in which he made a valid point that many of the host of concepts that constitute lean are counter-intuitive. Mastery of lean, and therefore the ability to teach others, demands the reconciliation of many apparent contradictions. Here are some examples:
- We need to standardise our processes but at the same time encourage creativity and CI
- We need to strive for perfection but at the same time accept the inevitable failure and mistakes that will arise from experimentation
- We need to drive out variation while promoting CI and continual change
- We need to throw out what we were taught about economies of scale and understand why small batches are more efficient than big ones
- We need to throw out what we were taught about economic order and production quantities and understand that inventory holding costs (in the case of the EOQ) and set up times (in the case of EPQ) are not fixed
You can link to Lonnie’s article below:
While I love Lonnie’s article, I think it would be enriched with some examples of where these contradictions have been found and addressed – either poorly or well.
For example, the first contradiction listed (standardisation vs. creativity) is one that is highly visible in the service sector. We can all think of examples where we would expect nothing less than for our simple problem to be solved through an easy, standardised process – finding out how much money we have or have not left in our current account, for example. However, how many of us have been frustrated by listening to lengthy telephone menus only to find that none of the options fit the problem that has driven us to call in the first place. During my research on lean in the service sector, I came across one organisation in the financial sector that had taken an eminently sensible approach to this issue. They did not translate lean as being about standardisation anywhere and everywhere. Instead they conducted purposeful inquiry as to the nature of the work being carried out and whether it was high discretion or low discretion work. They used the outcome of that inquiry to properly scope the boundaries of standardisation. This enabled them to benefit from reduced variation and increased predictability without unexpected consequences such as a poorer customer experience. This company understood that lean is always about effectiveness first and efficiency second. For me this is where the translation of lean into non-traditional lean environments becomes interesting – who does it well and who does it poorly.