As discussed in the article that coined the word “Lean,” productivity was clearly better for the Japanese automakers:
Toyota was clearly doing more (output) with less (people) compared to GM, Ford, Chrysler, Mercedes, etc.
The Japanese also had better quality, faster time to market, etc. It wasn't just about efficiency.
Toyota was the definition of Lean, essentially, with their methods, philosophy, and management system.
So, Toyota (Lean) was doing more with less. That's true and it shouldn't be controversial.
So What's the Controversy?
If we were comparing one hospital against another… it might true to say ThedaCare provides more patient care per employee than the average hospital. I don't have the data in front of me, but ThedaCare has improved productivity by 25 or 30% in some areas.
It's very important to keep in mind that ThedaCare has a “no layoffs philosophy.” They are improving productivity, but they aren't firing people. They are probably reducing headcount responsibly through attrition and retirements. I know they are reassigning people to other areas, including their internal Lean group.
The reason people have concerns (or freak out) about the phrase “doing more with less” is that they hear it as “YOU'RE GOING TO LAY PEOPLE OFF!” Or they'll understandable get upset and say “YOU JUST WANT US TO WORK HARDER!”
I'd avoid using the phrases “we're going to do more with less” or “Lean is about doing more with less” in an internal Lean education or transformation effort. I think I rarely, if ever, use this phrase myself, even though it's true.
Like the word “Lean” itself, the phrase is too easily misinterpreted as something that we don't mean (or shouldn't mean) with Lean.
I have former clients of mine who are, for example, doing 30% more laboratory testing with the same headcount levels as they had in 2006 or 2007. They are “doing more with the same number of people” or “doing more with less.”
But, they haven't laid off people. They've sometimes been able to not replace people who quit or retire, but that's not harmful to morale like layoffs are. I should say it's not harmful to morale IF you have actually done process improvements that allow you to do “more with less.” They're not making people work harder. They've eliminated waste and frustrations that interfere with doing the work that matters.
You can't put the cart before the horse. Just firing people will NOT improve your productivity, anyway. You might be doing less (work) with less (people) or you're going to be doing the same amount of work, but quality or safety will suffer if people are forced into cutting corners. That's clearly not good and it's not Lean.
You can't force people to do more of what they're doing. You have to re-think processes, redesign your systems, and eliminate waste. That's what allows you to do more.
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