Wednesday, September 12, 2012

When Lean isn't Phat

Popularized by Toyota, lean processes have been applied to many organizations since the Japanese automaker's huge success with this method.[1] In addition, it has been applied in organizations across many sectors, not just in its initially common manufacturing and retail sectors.[2] The healthcare industry has applied lean processes successfully, as showcased in the New York Times article, "Factory Efficiency Comes to the Hospital", as well as the service industry, showcased in the Wall Street Journal article, "Latest Starbucks Buzzword: 'Lean' Japanese Techniques". 

However, author Dave Nave states in the Quality Progress article, that "[i]f many popular programs appear to end up in the same place addressing the same issues", then "[s]election of a process improvement methodology is dependent on the culture of your organization."[3] In certain organizations and from certain perspectives, particularly those of the worker, there has been a backlash against lean manufacturing.[4] In the service industry especially, one consultant states that, "[t]he service you provide is not something you produce. And it certainly is not subject to the rules of production."[5] If Mr. Nave is correct, worker backlash against lean processes should, at least in part, affect an organization's decision on whether or not to continue to apply the lean process improvement methodology. 

Questions this leads us to include: 
How do I determine when negative employee feedback is simply adjustment to a new process and when it is valuable insight?
What systems might need to be in place to handle employee feedback on processes? And what weight should employee feedback be given in comparison to management weight? 
If subscribing to Nave's suggestions, how do organizations even determine what their "company culture" is?  
[1] "The Evolution of the Toyota Production System." IBS CDC (2004): Print.
[2] Weed, Julie. "Factory Efficiency Comes to the Hospital." The New York Times 9 July 2010: Print.
[3] Nave, Dave. "How to Compare Six Sigma, Lean and Theory of Constraints." Quality Progress March (2002): 73-78. Print.
[4] "A lean production system is bad for workers - Forbes India News - IBNLive ." CNN-IBN Videos. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2012. <>.
[5] Hay, Stephen. "Why Lean Production is a Poor Model for Service" Stephen Hay. People and Process. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2012. <>.

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