Lean Tools Not Working In Pharma
Sigh, yet another attempt to say “lean doesn’t apply in our industry.” A survey of pharma companies shows they think lean isn’t working.
“The survey of more than 1,500 pharmaceutical manufacturers, conducted by solutions specialist Invistics, showed that, while more than half of the respondents said their companies have implemented Lean, Six Sigma or Operational Excellence, less than half of those lean initiatives have produced satisfactory results.”
It’s like the old Jeff Liker comments that half of auto suppliers were talking lean and only 2% were really doing it. Well, of course you’re not going to get great results from lean if you’re focused on lean tools and how your process isn’t like an assembly line, as this article implies about the pharma world.
For one, be careful that the survey was sponsored by a software company that has an interest in selling a software solution that “makes lean fit” that industry. I’d argue the real problem is management not focusing on “lean management” concepts, not a lack of software.
The survey says
“…the fundamental complexities of the pharmaceutical manufacturing process raise challenges not found in simple high-volume manufacturing plants that can dedicate production equipment to specific product lines, such as automobiles and computers.”
That statement is incredibly insulting to people who work in discrete manufacturing, such as a car plant. Building high-quality cars in high-volume is “simple?” I think not. An assembly factory can’t be run by chimps. It requires thinking, continuous improvement, and problem solving.
Ah, thinking and problem solving — that’s the part of “lean” that DOES apply, whether it’s manufactuing, healthcare, airlines, financial services, etc. I’m sure pharma facilities are full of smart people (unlike the “simple” factory folks). To me, “lean pharma” would be a management change to a Toyota Way style approach — involving and empowering employees, solving problems, using TPM and other methods to ensure equipment uptime, etc.
I get tired of hearing excuses why lean isn’t right for a certain plant, company, or industry. The healthcare world (such as hospitals) are trying to figure out how to make Lean WORK, rather than making excuses for why it doesn’t. Excuses = lame management.
Speaking of lame management, don’t forget how Merck was bragging about using lean to drive headcount reductions. Dumb, dumb, dumb. if you search google for “lean Merck,” you find this blog and my criticism of them front and center. Moves like that are yet another reason why lean wouldn’t be taking off – if people think lean will cost them jobs, then they’ll make sure lean doesn’t work, software or not!
Maybe the headline should read “Short-sighted Non-Lean Management Proves Mean”??