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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Use the Kata, Luke

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Saturday, April 24, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Question:  When is lean too lean?

Behind this question lurks a way of thinking about Lean that is slightly off the mark.

As Taiichi Ohno supposedly remarked, “You need enough inventory to hold the system together,” i.e., enough inventory to compensate for the current amount of variation in the processes in the value stream.

Many target conditions at Toyota will indeed involve striving for greater efficiency. But pursuing greater efficiency alone does not ensure an organization’s competitiveness and does not explain Toyota’s successes. Contrary to popular belief, Toyota’s core kata is not fundamentally about doing more with less. It’s a way of tapping and mobilizing human capabilities in order to achieve any target condition.

As Deming supposedly said, “A numerical goal without a method is nonsense.” What leads us to running our inventory down too low is our misunderstanding of Lean simply as reducing, mated with an outcome-focused management paradigm that seeks to maximize or minimize the individual pieces of a system.

We should learn to see that Toyota’s improvement kata — the context within which Toyota’s lean tools are applied — is not about reducing per se. If we apply the lean tools within the framework and guidelines of that kata, then we will tend to operate with the right level of inventory for the current situation.

You can read more about the improvement kata here:

The Improvement Kata

Mike

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