In management philosophy, there are many terms that look nebulous, sound neat but do not do much. We thought out of the box, created synergies and had blue sky thoughts. But did it yield us better business? Lean manufacturing however yields results, increases profit and cuts costs. Organizations could not ask for more.
Toyota pioneered the term and practice in the nineties. Essentially, they looked at their processes and focused on eliminating every part of manufacture that didn’t deliver value to the customer. Value meaning anything that the client would not be willing to pay for.
This term is about eliminating waste and becoming more efficient. But the Japanese went farther in their quest for production perfection. Toyota identified three obstacles to lean: muda meaning work that does not add value; mura, which means unevenness or obstacles to flow and muri: overburden of employees and machinery. The pushing of someone or something beyond its limits.
An important precept that can be applied to every business is that waste is not eliminated for the sake of it, but when it yields direct benefit. So we do not just pat ourselves on the back for getting rid of a stage, add-on or even a person; only when the tangible benefit can be measured and appreciated.
The three M concepts combine to make lean operation. Muri comes at the beginning, in planning and preparation for every manufacturing process. It looks at what work can be avoided. Then, Mura is all about implementation. It gets rid of those gnarly fluctuations in schedules and processes. The waiting around. Down time. Both employees and equipment waiting for an earlier or later stage of manufacturing to be ready to occur. Finally, Muda comes when the actual manufacture is going on and we see any wasted operations and deal with them. It then, of course feeds back in a circle to the planning and implementation and things simply go from strength to strength.
It is best to think of lean by example. Say you are a book publisher. Leaving aside the creative process delivering the work (the IP), once you go into physical creation, lean production comes into play. There are jacket designers, illustrators and typesetters. Marketing execs writing blurbs for the back cover. Printers of the book are binders. Those who sell the book into the stores and chains. The e-publishing department. Those who garner puffs: prepublication reviews. The guys who pack the books into boxes. The team shipping books out.
If one person or machine in the chain sits idle, waiting for another link to fall in place, there is waste. If any element is overstretched, it is detrimental. If one process is not planned properly so unexpected delays occur. That waste adds no value for the end customer (in fact the opposite).
Lean manufacturing is well worth exploring further and applying to your business. Hence the publishing example: publishers do not think of themselves as manufacturers and perhaps you do not either. But consider every process of creation of your product or service.