Monday, February 3, 2014

About lean manufacturing, the 7 mudas and the Mona Lisa

Toyota Production System

So I was reading this article from Harvard Business Review that did a pretty good job of decyphering what the secret is behind the success of Toyota's production system (TPS). The article went into details about the underlying principles behind Toyota's philosophy and presented several examples of their applications to Toyota's plants. The video below can give you a brief but comprehensive glance at Toyota's car manufacturing process at their plant in Kentucky.

The 7 Mudas

The TPS created by Taiichi Ohno is the precursor of what would later be known as Lean Manufacturing. Even though HBR's article does not explain this, all of the principles of lean manufacturing are present throughout the TPS and are embodied in the form of what is commonly known as the "7 Mudas" or the seven wastes that must be avoided. The wastes are:

  1. Overproduction
  2. Waiting
  3. Rejects (or defects)
  4. Motion
  5. Overprocessing
  6. Inventory
  7. Transport
While most literature considers this list to be all-inclusive, others propose a few additional wastes like: waste of people, waste of resources, confusion or misinformation. The eradication of these wastes constitutes the core of the lean manufacturing philosophy. You can find a more detailed explanation of each waste here, or you can watch this short video to get the gist of it all.

The Mona Lisa

Now I'd like to pose an interesting question for you... Hundreds of companies from all over the world have unsuccesfully tried to adopt and perfect the TPS system to the same extent that Toyota has. 

Why do you think that is???

If you asked me what I think, I'd say that to me designing the perfect manufacturing process is half science and half art. And a lot like it happens with art, it doesn't matter how hard you try to replicate a masterpiece, the results in the end are just never the same -i.e. there is one and only one true Mona Lisa. 

The reason behind this is that no two organizations are the same. Every organization is the result of a summation of factors that have given it a unique and irrepeatable signature: the people working within, the environmental conditions that it lives in, the hardships it has had to overcome over the years, the business decisions that have shaped its strategy, its culture, etc.  Thus, we cannot expect to ever find a "one size fits all" solution for manufacturing -or even a "one size fits two" for that matter.

Think about it, really...

The human being has been exposed to viruses, bacteria and other biological threats for centuries. Nonetheless, no human being is born with a fully developed immune system. This is not a given. Rather, immunity is something we gain over the years by being exposed to these threats and defending ourselves from them.

In the case of manufacturers, it is my opinion that because the TPS system did not come naturally to them but was rather implanted, the methodology is exogenous. For this very reason, ideal results could never be completely achieved.

But, hey, that's my opinion. What do you think? Do you think it will ever be possible for a company other than Toyota to fully implement and sustain the TPS? Do you think someone already has?

HBR - Decoding the DNA of the Toyota production system (
YouTube - Lean manufacturing example Toyota plant Kentucky (
Lean enterprises blog - The 7 wastes of lean enterprises (
Vimeo - The seven deadly wastes (
Lean manufacturing tools - 7 wastes of lean manufacturing (

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