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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker:continually assessing what customers want, striving for perfection in satisfying customers and in every aspect of our production and service process, developing in people the ability and motivation to detect and solve deviations from perfect one-piece flow, leaders who are developing in people the ability to continuous improve, and a long-term value of the enterprise on satisfying customers and contributing to society.

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, November 22, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

As you know Wikipedia is a kind of public free-for-all in how different topics get defined and analyzed and this person got there and took the time to write something so I give them credit. In a book I and coauthors just completed that will be out in the winter, entitled:  The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement, we argue that we may have misled the public through definitions of lean that focus on waste reduction.  If I may use a quote from that book:

“At the risk of sounding disrespectful, what do all these people think they are doing by leaning out this or that? Obviously they think that there is some physical thing that has waste in it, and the objective is to remove that waste. It is sort of like cleaning your pool. Remove the dirt and debris and your pool is clean, but even your pool will not stay clean for very long.”

In other words that Wiki definition makes lean appear to be a very narrow process that looks for wasteful expenditures of energy and seeks to eliminate those wasteful steps.  This is certainly part of the story, but a small part.

I believe that Ohno’s concept of reducing the time line by eliminating waste was intended as a point of focus for learning continuous improvement.  Ohno would speak of “the factory that god built.”  He asked if that factory would have defects, and extra inventory sitting around, and long rework loops, and equipment sitting idle, and workers standing around waiting, etc.  The ideal of one-piece flow is a waste free process and is people getting what they want, in the amount they want, when they want it.  It requires understanding what the customer wants and how much, perfect quality,perfectly functioning equipment, people perfectly trained and motivated, perfect suppliers, and all support systems perfect.   It is impossible in practice, but through dedication, focus, and innovation we can move closer and closer to that ideal.  Simply looking at whatever process exists and taking out a step or so deemed to be waste may get you a little closer to the ideal but the act of doing that is not the definition of lean in my opinion.

Ohno also realized that even if by magic we had the perfect process right now it would not be the perfect process tomorrow.  Without a lot of energy people and the process would degrade from perfection, and conditions would change, such as what customers want.  So the striving for perfection requires continuous improvement.  This is the energy that arrests entropy and keeps us moving toward perfection.

With this view any definition of lean must consider at a minimum:  continually assessing what customers want, striving for perfection in satisfying customers and in every aspect of our production and service process, developing in people the ability and motivation to detect and solve deviations from perfect one-piece flow, leaders who are developing in people the ability to continuous improve, and a long-term value of the enterprise on satisfying customers and contributing to society.

Lean recognizes that organizations are complex open-systems and require constant adaptation and that the parts are all interconnected. On the other hand there is a need for action to empirically learn at all levels so people cannot get frozen by thinking they have to wait until the entire system is optimized as a whole. Local experiments are highly encouraged.  At the smallest level the person at the individual process-level is looking for deviations from standard in what it receives as inputs, how it processes those inputs, and what it passes onto the customer.  At the more macro-level managers are looking to solve larger system problems that cut across organizations.  Nobody can know enough to perfectly optimize anything, but they are doing the best they can, muddling along, to improve step-by-step toward the ideal of perfection.  Some things work and others do not but they are always striving to learn and improve.

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