How Specific an Example Do You Need?
From the Northwest Lean Network email listserv, about a week ago:
” I am looking for experiences using lean practices and tools in fruit juice businesses.”
I've seen a lot of this, people asking for very specific examples of lean practices for their exact specific sub-industry for a specific type of customer. What if someone volunteered a vegetable juice producer? Sorry, not a close enough match?
It's OK to learn from others, but as long as you aren't trying to just copy practices without understanding Lean. GM tried learning Lean from Toyota… the businesses were too similar, GM saw things (through the filter of their own business) — or they didn't see things — and ended up copying certain Lean practices while missing most of the picture. And we see how that's working out for them.
One reason I think healthcare is doing well with Lean is that they've had to learn CONCEPTUAL Lean and TPS and then had to figure out how to apply it. I'm afraid that as we get more hospitals doing Lean, they'll only want to learn Lean from other hospitals and they'll start copying. Learning from others is good, if it drives you to figure it out yourself. Copying is a shortcut, but might not serve you well in the long term.
At a high enough level, Lean is Lean. Sure, aerospace Lean is slightly different than automotive lean (product cycles are different, volumes are different, customer/supplier/producer dynamics are different, etc. etc. etc.).
But “eliminating waste” and “respect for people” are pretty universal concepts that you can apply anywhere. Who cares if that other fruit juice producer did 5S first, then implemented standard work? Maybe they never did Lean well, why would you look to copy from someone exactly like you? I guess that's some people's comfort levels. Our business is unique… that's true, every business is unique on some level. But looking for that “mirror image” to benchmark is too often an excuse of why Lean doesn't work for us.