Lean – Back to the Basics

A few weeks ago, I had the honor and privilege to speak to the founders of four manufacturing startup companies as part of the Vogt Awards program.  The topic was near and dear to my heart – Lean Manufacturing. 

My initial thoughts were many – how am I going to cram all I know about Lean into 90 minutes? There are so many topics to discuss – How will I pick the ones that will help them the most?  Is a high level, broad-brush approach appropriate or should I go into details on selected topics?  Where should I start with such a blank sheet?  Then it hit me – a blank sheet… These are startups.  Early stage startups are that.  Some of them have only developed a prototype, and they will probably not be making their own products initially, so talking about 5S, Visual Factory, KanBan, Poka-Yoke, and other topics may not be of immediate use for them.  So where to start?

Well, as Julie Andrews once said, “Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start.”  So I went back to the basics, introducing the concept of Lean Thinking and focused on the Principles of Lean introduced by Womack & Jones:

  • Value
  • The Value Stream
  • Flow
  • Pull
  • Perfection

Understanding these fundamental principles are key to understanding Lean.  All the topics, tools, etc. can be traced back to these 5 principles.  And since we’re talking about people who are just starting their companies, what better place to start!  They can use these to serve as a foundation for how they will operate their companies, as Lean is intended.  So instead of jumping to the solution, I focused on thoroughly understanding the underlying philosophy – something they could really use.

Then I started thinking – how often to Lean practitioners jump straight into the solutions before making sure the audience understand the principles?  We go straight to the tools and templates without understanding why we are using them.  And then we wonder why Lean transformations fail.  It’s like teaching Calculus without understanding Algebra (or even basic Arithmetic), and we need to stop.  Take the time to go back to the basics and focus on the fundamentals.  It’s time well spent.

Oh, and interestingly enough, the cohort I spoke to was also going through the Lean Startup Program (which I think is fantastic), so I asked them:  How much time did you spend learning about Lean and these fundamental principles?  Answer: None.

Let me know your thoughts!


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