Posts Tagged ‘DNA’

Looking for the next evolution of lean? Look back.

Many have achieved great success with lean – it’s all over the web. Companies have done 5S, standard work, value stream mapping, and flow-pull-perfection. Waste in value streams has reduced from 95% to 80%, which is magical; productivity gains have been excellent; and costs have dropped dramatically. But the question on everyone’s mind – what’s next? The blogs, articles, and papers are speculating on the question and proposing theories, all of which have merit. But I think we’re asking the wrong question.

Instead of looking forward for the next evolution of lean, we should look back. We must take a fundamental, base-level look at our factories, and ask what did we miss? We must de-evolve our thinking about our factories, and break down their DNA – like mapping the factory genome.

Though lean has achieved radical success, it has not achieved fundamental reduction in factory complexity. Heresy? Let me explain. Lean helped us migrate from batch building to single piece flow. With batch building, a group of parts are processed at machine A, then, when all are finished, the whole family moves to machine B. With single piece flow, a part is processed at machine A then she moves, without her sisters, directly to machine B, resulting in big savings. But in both cases, the fundamental part flow, a surrogate for factory complexity, remains unchanged – parts move from machine A to machine B. Lean did not change it. Lean has taken the bends out of our factory flow and squeezed machines together, but that’s continuous improvement. We’ve got good signals, we’ve got cell-based metrics, and 15 minute pitches. Again, continuous improvement. But what about discontinuous improvement? How can we fundamentally reduce factory complexity?

Factories are what they are because of the parts flowing through them.

Factory flow and complexity are governed by the genetics of the parts. In that way, parts are the building blocks of the factory genome. From the machines and tools to the people, handling equipment, and the incoming power – they’re all shaped by the parts’ genetics. Heavy parts, heavy duty cranes; complex parts, complex flows; big parts, big factories. When we want to make a fundamental change in bacteria to make a vaccine, we change the genetics. When we want to make a fruit immune to a natural enemy or resistant to cold of an unnatural habitat, we change the genetics. So, it follows, if fundamental change in factory complexity is the objective, the factory genome should change.

Don’t try to simplify the factory directly, change the parts to let the factory simplify itself.

Discontinuous reduction of factory complexity is the result of something – changing the products that flow through the factory. Only design engineers can do that. Only design engineers can eliminate features on the design so machine B is not required. Only design engineers can redesign the product to eliminate the part altogether – no more need for machine A or B. In both cases, the design engineer did what lean could not.

Lean is a powerful tool, and I’m an advocate. But we missed an important part of the lean family. We drove right by. We had the chance to engage the design community in lean, but we did not. Let’s get in the car, drive back to the design community, and pick them up. We’ll tell them anything they want to hear, just as long as they get in the car. Then, as fast as we can, we’ll drive them to the lean pool party. Because as Darwin knew, diversity is powerful, powerful enough to mutate lean into a strain that can help us survive in the future.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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