Is Support for Lean Only Lip Service?

            TBM Consulting Group says its annual survey shows lean culture gaining ground, but I’m a bit skeptical as to what that really means.

            The company just released the results of its fourth annual multi-national “Productivity Survey,” conducted in the first half of 2006  in conjunction with The Manufacturer magazine. The survey polled 2,288 executives from mid-sized to large manufacturers in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Mexico and Brazil.

            (This is the first of two postings I’m writing about the survey. The next will focus on what the survey says is a gap in leadership skills.)

            The manufacturers were asked to specify the productivity or quality improvement program currently being used. The results:


                                                U.S.     U.K.     Germany        Mexico            Brazil

Lean                                       78%    66%         20%                15%               52%

ISO Certification                      41%    58%         59%                25%               48%

Kaizen                                    63%    42%         26%                15%               71%


            I’m a bit confused by the differences between the programs. I always thought kaizen was part of lean. But hey, what do I know?

            The manufacturers were also asked to rank the top sources of improved productivity. The results:


                                                U.S.     U.K.     Germany        Mexico            Brazil

Continuous Process

  Improvement (lean)                   56%    35%         26%                21%            36%

Work Flow/Procedure

  Process Improvement              18%    19%         30%                25%               36%

Technology                                 6%      8%           4%                11%            13%


            Again, the clear differences between those first two categories elude me.

            The survey also said the vast majority of manufacturers in all five countries reported productivity improvements.

            Anand Sharma, CEO of TBM, said in a news release, “The data suggests that the Lean culture is gaining more mainstream acceptance worldwide as a driver of productivity… As more and more of these companies gain visibility for their growth, the lean architecture is increasingly being adopted in the major manufacturing countries of the world.”

Well, maybe so. But I suggest you take another look at the research from Aberdeen Group I previously described, regarding The Low Rates of Lean Implementation. According to that research, relatively few manufacturers (at least in the U.S.) have really been implementing lean for any extended period of time.

So what conclusion can be drawn here? The most optimistic interpretation is that more companies have only recently jumped on the lean bandwagon, and the best improvements in productivity are yet to come. A more cynical analysis would be that more companies are saying they are embracing lean, but aren’t really doing it.

What’s your take on this? Are you an optimist or a cynic? I look forward to your comments.


1 comment:

Ralph Bernstein said...

10/4/2006 3:31:48 PM
Re: Is Support for Lean Only Lip Service?
By: systcraig

I am an optimist. Transitioning to Lean is difficult. Showing the proper support and commitent is no exception. Words can describe intent, but only actions can demonstrate commitment. I think top management has a hard time demonstrating their commitment. They often appear to be under enormous time pressure. There are many tactics that can be employed to make it easier for all levels of management to show commitment and support for their lean efforts. One powerful tactic is to implement a method designed to help prioritize and manage the numerous "projects" or Kaizen events in a "first-in, first-out" manner. For instance, Value Stream Mapping can result in numerous projects being identified. It can even qualify them based on their potential impact but it can't help determine how many of these projects are practical given the available resources. If too many projects are underway at one time, achieving less than desirable results as a consequence, it can be difficult for management to understand how to demonstrate support. Project Portfolio Management is an excellent way to control the number of projects effectively. Then everyone, including management can focus on project "finishes" rather than "work-in-process" by ensuring resources are allocated effectively and efforts are actually being completed before new projects or kaizens are undertaken. Management will then find it easier to issue positive reinforcement and to get involved with where people are struggling. There are many project portfolio management software products on the market that can help.