From Lean Thinking To Thinking Lean

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<ul><li> 1. From Lean Thinking to Thinking LeanDr. Keivan Zokaei2009 marks the 20th anniversary of the termAs such we simply eliminate thinking fromlean being coined by John Krafcik nowworking and from lean improvement! This isActing President and CEO of Hyundai Motorclearly in stark contradiction to the very coreAmerica. In his Masters dissertation at theof lean thinking which aims to put thinkingMassachusetts Institute of Technology whereback into the frontline. Customers andKrafcik was researching the comparativeemployees are victims of dumb downperformance of automotive assembly in Japansystemisation like. How many times have youvs. West, he used the term to describe dialled up to a call centre or walked into aToyotas ability to do more with less. customer service centre to find out that the front line staff are no more able to help youDuring the past two decades much effort has than reading from a computer page andgone into imitating Toyota Production System referring you to another department. A jobin manufacturing as well as translating its that surely makes them feel as mere adjunctsroots and principles for other sectors such as to the machine.retail and service. While billions have beensaved through just-in-time processes and According to Taiichi Ohno, the father oftotal quality management, engaging peopleToyota Production System, the two pillars ofand sustaining improvements remain anlean are JIT (which in a broader context canenormous challenge for lean managers.be interpreted as continuous flow) and Jidoka.Managers are faced with the dilemma that Jidoka is translated as automation with aimplementing new and more efficient systemshuman touch, intelligent automation orcould lead to loosing employees engagementautonomation. Yet this aspect of TPS isin new ways of working.mostly ignored in the West where most of the lean literature (including the best selling LeanSome attempt to communicate or to explain Thinking by Womack and Jones) focus on thethe need for the new system for example by JIT pillar of TPS. Whereas simple automationsending middle managers and supervisors on is concerned with efficiency and labourtraining programmes. However plausible, this reduction,autonomationfocusesonhardly solves the problem since explanation is effectiveness, on quality improvement, andbarely synonymous with understanding which the independence of the worker from thecomes from a far deeper and more hands-on system.engagement with work. At the same time, it isno wonder that change doesnt stick whereIn Taiichi Ohnos language, automationworkers do not appreciate the necessity of applies to any sort of systemisation anythe new way of working. Organisations andsituation that involves replacing humanmanagers, who clearly see the benefits of theactivities and decisions with a process. Farnew system, often respond by forcing changefrom turning the worker into the adjunct ofthrough with an iron fist. The result is the the machine, TPS insists on frontlinecreation of dumb down systems within employees ability to make decisions, towhich the role of the worker is reduced to a absorb variety and to react to quality issues aspowerless doer.much as possible, e.g. stopping the line to fix1</li></ul> <p> 2. From Lean Thinking to Thinking Leanthe problem which on the surface appears toof the customers, this local authority have notbe even disruptive to continuous flow. Simplyonly saved staggering sums of money but alsoput, Jidoka is about putting thinking back intoimproved service waiting times fivefold. Inworking. Thats why in TPS standardisation isanother example I recently spent time witha way of workers helping themselves to one of the UKs leading retailers which hadimprove the process, rather than a method of spent huge amounts on implementation of acontrol. new supply chain IT system. Our investigation revealed that the users were not briefedCompare this to any average manufacturing about the way the system worked as anprocess or even a call centre where frontline integrated whole and did not understand itstaff have very little authority to address outside their own immediate function leadingvariations in work outside the imposed to conflicting behaviour and demandcontrols, let alone to stop the line and ask for distortion betweenstores, regional(pull) help. Dumb down systemisation is distribution centre, central distribution centreubiquitous in both manufacturing and service. and suppliers. A simple simulation showedI recently visited a local authority that have that if the system was switched off demandsaved millions of pounds by simply sending amplification would also come under control.several social workers and expert staff to visit In this case the behaviour of agents wascustomers at the same time and at the first driven by the IT system while their ability topoint of contact, rather than allowing think was severely dampened. One employeeunnecessary hand offs between less told me that the old manual system workedexperienced frontline employees to back much better!office expert staff and amongst variousexpertise within the back offices. My hope is that in the third decade of lean, and following the principle of Jidoka, we moveBy putting expert staff at the front who are towards a more thinking lean.enabled to think and absorb the requirements </p>