Monday, September 17, 2012

Go For it! Implement lean production, But...

So by now Toyota has impressed you and you have all the numbers and anecdotal examples to convince management to use lean production methods.  Great, but how do you convince this guy that it's a good idea?

In reading The Evolution of the Toyota Production System I was especially struck by Principal 10: Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company’s philosophy. [1] I immediately thought of how important it is to align interests at all levels of an organization when implementing new strategies. This was reinforced when I stumbled upon a study that looked at this exact question. In Implementing lean production systems: barriers to change the authors studied the opinions of workers at a manufacturing plant where continuous improvement methods (CIM) were being implemented. [2] In an era where outsourcing is a major concern it is not surprising that many US manufacturing workers are recalcitrant to changes that appear at first glance to shrink the workforce. The authors emphasized the trend of the last couple decades in which management seem to say to its workers that "if goods cannot be produced defect free, on time, and at a reasonable price, they will be manufactured elsewhere." [3] This combatant attitude has left many weary of new ideas.

Here are a few of the findings (note that this is just from one survey and the results could differ elsewhere):
  •  The longer a worker has been with the company, the less likely they are to support CIM.
  • Salary employees give better ratings than the hourly employees. This suggests that management supports CIM while the rest of staff dislikes CIM.
  • Across the board, however, workers would use CIM if they owned their own business. This means that the majority understand the benefits of CIM but resist change in this particular organization.
These suggests that before CIM are initiated an organization might want to consider their particular work culture and align it with CIM goals. Principle 10 supports this idea of alignment but gives little discussion on how to properly achieve high levels of cooperation.
  1. What are some ideas you have that would achieve alignment and cross-functional support for lean production? 
  2. Are there certain industries where a cultural shift towards CIM would be seamless? Impossible?
  3. Are there other factors aside from an organizations culture that might inhibit initiating CIM?

[1] The Evolution of the Toyota Production System (Chaudhury and Hansa, IBS Case Development Center, 2004)
[2] Khim L. Sim, John W. Rogers, (2009) "Implementing lean production systems: barriers to change", Management Research News, Vol. 32 Iss: 1, pp.37 - 49
[3] Ibid. 38

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