Lean is Not About Outsourcing


    How Boeing Got Going – TIME

    Evolving Excellence's Kevin Meyer will comment on this after his vacation, I'm sure (read his other Boeing comments starting here).

    There's a piece in Time Magazine and it makes a very misguided reference to “lean.”

    Boeing is planning to shift the emphasis on speed to the production line. It took a page from lean manufacturing to help manage its restructured partner base and outsourcing of parts. The company has pushed outsourcing to new levels, about 70% of the aircraft. (Boeing and Airbus both averaged about 50% on previous jets.)

    I don't know Boeing's business well, so I'm not so much questioning their supply chain strategies here. But, I do take issue with Boeing (or more likely, the reporter) equating lean to outsourcing.

    There's nothing in the Lean or Toyota Production System approaches that says you should outsource, or that outsourcing is a good thing. Toyota doesn't make all of their parts, but outsourcing is a business decision that's somewhat separate from lean, right? What percentage of Toyota's “value add” is done in house? If you're outsourcing and that leads to longer lead times (say, you outsource to China), that's a problem. The lean approach values fast response and short lead time supply chains.

    The folks in the article also take a different view of “value.”

    To Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis for Teal Group, an aerospace and defense consultancy, the 787's production process qualifies it as the iPod of aerospace–essentially not only the new face of aviation but of American manufacturing as well. “Look at your iPod. Where was it built? Who the hell cares? That's not where the value is,” he says. “You design, you integrate, you sell, you support, you finance. There's a lot to be said for putting it together under your roof, but leave bending metal or pouring plastic to someone else.”

    What do you think about this? Traditionally, we view “value” as the value creating manufacturing steps that actually change the product in some way. Aboulafia pooh-poohs that dirty manufacturing stuff, but thinks value is created by financing?

    We have different definitions of “value” here. The lean definition of value follows three rules:

    1. The customer must value the activity (be willing to pay for it)
    2. The activity must change the form, fit, or function of the product
    3. The activity must be done right the first time

    Finance doesn't really fit those rules, does it?

    Is this a new “iPod world” or does manufacturing still provide the true value to customers??

    Please check out my main blog page at www.leanblog.org

    The RSS feed content you are reading is copyrighted by the author, Mark Graban.

    , , , on the author's copyright.

    What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

    Did you like this post? Make sure you don't miss a post or podcast — Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.

    Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

    Get New Posts Sent To You

    Select list(s):
    Previous articleYour Dermatologist Might Not be FIFO
    Next article"5 Whys" Survey Results: Demographic Breakdown (Q2)
    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. I think part of the problem here is labels.

      “Lean” and “Six Sigma” are labels and nothing more. They are just words that excite many emotions.

      Some will say lean is a way of life while six sigma is tools. While others will say six sigma is a way of life and lean is tools. It is a circular debate that adds no real value.

      If Boeing feels the need to outsource, just like (as you mentioned) Toyota does quite a bit of, it should NOT be associated with the label “lean.”

      Instead, it should be associated with its overall manufacturing strategy which I hope involves deep quantitative and qualitative analysis of their business situation as they decide what to make versus buy.

      That’s my two cents at least! Great post Mark – as usual.

    2. The issue I have with Aboulafia’s statement is that Boeing isn’t actually designing the components that they are outsourcing. They’ve sent a heck of a lot of the institutional knowledge out with the dirty manufacturing. This is particularly true when it comes to the wave of the future, composites manufacturing. It’s a major risk, and I hope it works out for them.
      While getting investment capital from other companies and overseas is probably necessary to design a new airliner, I hope to see Boeing back in the business of designing critical systems (like wings) on their next airliner.

    3. One problem in this country is that we have trouble prioritizing our needs. In an economy, there is a basic make/buy decision that is grossly overlooked for the sake of profits. What do I need to buy and what can I make on my own for less than I can buy it for? Another wrinkle in this question is this; what can I buy and what should I be capable of making? Capability is an incredibly undervalued component of our economy that is being outsourced for the sake of short term profits. If one considers capability in the long term, than the question of make/buy becomes more of a local question than a global one.


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.