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Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation.

Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation. James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones, Free Press, New York, 2003, 396 pages.

Lean is a technique that has been embraced by all branches of the military. The Army has merged the concepts of Lean and Six Sigma, and the Air Force has AFSO-21 (Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century), which incorporates Lean, Six Sigma, and the Theory of Constraints. However, making Lean a policy does not ensure that the individuals in the organization understand the theory of Lean. This is where Lean Thinking comes into play. While authors James R Womack and Daniel T. Jones certainly did not invent Lean, they did manage to compile the concepts that make up Lean in one, easily readable book. I would suggest that anyone interested in Lean make this their first reading assignment.

The authors begin with the basic concept of "muda," or waste. They contend there are various types of waste everywhere. Lean thinking is the antidote for muda. Lean is the elimination of waste--anything that does not create value. And value can only be defined by the customer in terms of a specific product at a specific price at a specific time. Thus, Lean is a value-added concept based on customer satisfaction.

The first steps in Lean thinking are identifying the value and the "value stream." Value stream is the set of all actions required to bring a specific product through the three critical tasks necessary to put a finished product in the hands of the customer.

Next is the concept of "flow." Flow is the antithesis of the common batch-and-queue manufacturing mentality that permeates most manufacturing companies. Small lot production is required, based on the "optimal lot size of one" view.

Following flow is changing to a "pull" strategy, where the product is pulled by the customer, rather than pushed by the producer. Producing to a forecast only creates more waste.

The last principle of Lean thinking is "perfection," or the elimination of all waste. This should be the ultimate goal of any firm, and it is one of the reasons the authors are not keen on benchmarking. Why should one emulate an existing firm that may itself be full of waste? Why not use the concept of kaizen, or continuous improvement, to drive the company?

The authors stress that any firm wishing to transition to Lean needs to have a change agent. This is a person who is knowledgeable and adamant about the value of Lean and who can, if necessary, force changes upon the firm. The authors spend considerable time on the problems of culture change in firms and the necessity to use Lean principles continually to eliminate waste. In short, the true Lean company is never satisfied with where it is but is always striving to improve or reach perfection, even if perfection is an unreachable goal. Employee buy-in is a necessity, and it is crucial that employees do not view Lean as another reengineering attempt to reduce employment. Many of the authors' examples (after an initial reduction of the workforce) guarantee that no employees will be terminated because of Lean events.

The book is replete with examples of successful Lean implementations that are broken down by size of firm, type of industry, and country of origin. It also includes a general action plan for implementing Lean. Repeatedly, the authors emphasize the difficulty of implementing and continuing a Lean strategy. In many cases, success is a firm's worst enemy, as the emphasis switches from the continuing elimination of waste to simply managing the initial success. The authors contend that the best time to switch to Lean is during a crisis, and they even suggest inventing one if no crisis is handy.

Anyone involved, or contemplating becoming involved, in Lean, or anyone who thinks they understand Lean, should read this book. It will not make one a Lean expert overnight, but it will make the point that Lean is a vastly different way of thinking. As such, it requires major changes in an individual's viewpoints. Lean is not a one-time event or a simple cost-saving measure. It requires a dramatic restructuring of a firm and must encompass both suppliers and customers if it is to be done completely.

The authors finish up with a discussion of what they call the Lean enterprise, which includes the entire supply chain, from supplier's suppliers to customer's customers. They could find no examples of this in the "real world." The book is an easy read and is packed full of information. It should be required for anyone in any line of work.

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Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Cunningham, William A.
Publication:Army Logistician
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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