There doesn’t seem to be a rule of thumb as far as what kind of manufacturer or company size is more or less likely to succeed at Lean. Two manufacturers that have a similar setup, number of employees, access to resources, and who use the same Lean techniques could experience two completely different outcomes.
Why would two seemingly identical businesses have opposite results when applying the same Lean strategies? How could one see minimal to no improvement while the other experiences great success?
One obvious answer is that while two companies can use the same tools to identify what needs to be fixed, each is going to notice different opportunities to improve and generate different ideas to achieve progress. The execution itself will be unique to each company.
However, this alone shouldn’t matter to such a large degree. Lean is an ongoing process – an attitude, a culture – that lets employees at every level recognize where change would be beneficial and what kind of change works best. Several different solutions can yield different results, but the tools, equipment, and setups in themselves don’t contribute to ultimate failure or success.
In fact, all of Toyota uses Lean, but the ideas are not standardized amongst each plant or implemented in the same way.
The problem does lie in the execution of Lean, but not in the ideas that are generated. Rather, it is the work culture that dictates the success of the strategies. This is most evident when you compare the work ethic of the Japanese workforce to that of Western society.
In the research article, “Just-in-Time Manufacturing System: From Introduction to Implement,” written by Akbar Javadian Kootanaee, Dr. K. Nagendra Babu, and Hamidreza Fooladi Talari in the International Journal of Economics, Business and Finance, Just-In-Time manufacturing is explored in depth. In this article, several cultural differences between the Japanese and Western employees are identified.
The key to overall success to Just-In-Time or any other Lean strategy is in the human approach, not the tactical implementation. So to find success with this model, the Western civilization needs to solve the human component: creating a culture that practices the concept of lean and not just the idea.
In Part 2, we will examine four cultural differences highlighted in the aforementioned article and determine what kinds of Western solutions we can use to bridge the gap between these two cultures.
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