Manufacturers Must Lean Forward, Not Backward


IndustryWeek : Viewpoint — Manufacturers Must Lean Forward, Not Backward

The commentator, Dave Gleditsch, says:

“I was disappointed to see comments from the U.S. Department of Commerce official Al Frink at the August 8 Management Briefing Seminars held in Traverse City, Mich., suggesting that the American automotive industry may be too focused on cutting costs through Lean and Six Sigma initiatives and not giving enough attention to innovation as a vehicle for remaining competitive on the global landscape.

Mr. Frink fails to note that lean manufacturing creates not only improved cost performance, but even more important, it creates agility. And agility enables a business to be fast and flexible, with profitable performance. He also shows a lack of understanding of the depth of the challenge that many manufacturers — particularly in the automotive sector — face right now.”

I agree with Gleditsch — lean HAS to be more than just a cost cutting exercise. Lean needs to focus on the customer and on creating value. But is the auto industry treating JUST as cost cutting? What do you think? I've been away from the industry too long to really know. Is the auto industry using lean to create value or just to cut costs?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Mark, maybe a better question would be “is the automotive industry using lean?” I’m personally involved in this industry and I see very little evidence of any real lean action, just a lot of talk. Honda, Toyota, Nissan, and their supply chains are using it, but GM, Daimler-Chrysler, and Ford? Get real. They are still drowning in their own waste.


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