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Lean Thinking

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


Imagine that you were an Egyptian overseer, responsible for building a great pyramid for your Pharaoh. How would you want to organise things?

  • Would you want to start by knowing exactly what your Pharaoh wants?
  • Would you want to fully understand every part of the process?
  • Would you want to understand how stone moves from being part of the wall of a quarry to a perfectly fitting part of your Pharaoh’s pyramid?
  • Would you want to ensure that the giant blocks of stone arrived fast enough so the workers on the ramp always had a stone ready to move up?
  • Would you want to make sure stones got up to the top of the ramp fast enough to make sure that they were there as soon as the last stone was placed on the pyramid?
  • Would you want to avoid stones arriving too fast and causing a bottleneck?
  • Would you want to make sure every stone was perfect to avoid having to stop and find a replacement or re-dress the stone on site?

If your answer is yes to all of those questions, then congratulations: you are instinctively an ancient Lean Manager.

Lean thinking is not new: the ideas have been around for a very long time and accumulated in industry over the years. But there are a few names that are strongly associated with its emergence as a driving force in organisational effectiveness in the last years of the twentieth and early years of the twenty first century.

The thinking was done by the founder of Toyota, Sakichi Toyoda, his son, Kiichiro Toyoda, and their postWW2 production chief, Taiichi Ohno. The Toyodas set out how a production line could work best, avoiding the problems of Henry Ford’s original ‘don’t stop the flow of the line if anything goes wrong – sort it out at the end’ approach. When they could not make it work due to the flaws in their supply chain, it was Ohno who then solved the practical problems.

The message came out in a landmark study by researchers from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This was published in the 1991 book ‘The Machine that Changed the World’ which introduced the world to the term ‘Lean’. Two of its authors: James Womack and Daniel Jones, went on to write a series of influential books, spelling out how to apply the lean principles they had researched at Toyota, starting with ‘Lean Thinking’ and becoming even more practical, with ‘Lean Solutions’.

The Value Chain

At the heart of Lean Thinking is an understanding of the value chain, which we discussed in an earlier post. Lean thinking starts by defining value from the point of view of the end customer for your products or services. When you do this, you usually find that only a small proportion of your activities directly contribute to that value (from the customer’s perspective). The rest – including some parts of what Michael Porter described as Primary Business Activities are only necessary as supporting this value creation.

Performance improvement comes first from eliminating steps and interactions that are not necessary for value creation and then, redesigning those that are to be as effective and efficient as possible. This means less wastage due to delays, re-work, duplication, scrapping below quality products, and oversupply.

The five principles of Lean Thinking are set out below.

The Five Principles of Lean Thinking

Waste

At various points, Lean Thinking decries wastage. The Toyota production chief set out seven sources of waste that destroy value.

  1. overproduction
  2. excessive inventory
  3. defects
  4. delays
  5. unnecessary transportation of goods
  6. unnecessary movement of materials
  7. unnecessary processing or materials

Where is there waste in your organisation?

Further Reading

In 1997, James Womack founded the Lean Enterprise Institute. Its website is a valuable source of resources for understanding more about Lean thinking.

In our Management Thinkers series, you may like Taiichi Ohno: Lean Production.

From the Management Pocketbooks series:

  1. Improving Efficiency Pocketbook
  2. Improving Profitability Pocketbook
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Synergy: Mutualism in the Human World

Synergy

SynergySynergy is a Big Idea that has been around… forever. Or as near as makes no difference on a human scale.

In the animal world, we call it mutualism, but you know how fundamental an idea is, when your mum expressed it to you in plain language when you were just a small child. ‘The whole is greater than the sum of the parts’. That’s what synergy means. So, why is it such a widely used word in business – so much so that it has pride of place on many-a buzzword bingo card?

And there’s another question we need to get to grips with… How real are the synergy benefits that leaders so often advocate for? The fact is that the whole being greater than the sum of its parts is a nice idea – but logically, it would seem to be flawed. So, when does the concept apply?

Continue reading Synergy: Mutualism in the Human World

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Product Manager: Strategist, Advocate, Keystone

Product Manager - Product Management

Product Manager - Product ManagementMovie stars, celebrities, and sportspeople have managers to take care of their business affairs. So, why shouldn’t a superstar product? And if every product can aim to be a superstar, then they will all need their own Product Manager.

And that’s what we’ll look at in this article; the role of a Product Manager:

  • Why we need them
  • What they do
  • The breadth of their role

So, let’s dive into the world of Product Management.

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Triple Constraint: Time, Cost, and Quality

Triple Constraint - Time Cost Quality

Triple Constraint - Time Cost QualityTime, cost, or quality. Choose one. They are the corners of the triple constraint. And this is the most basic, most important idea within Project Management.

Project Management itself is a Big Idea that we have already covered. But when you are leading a project, the triple constraint is your guiding compass. It gives you the bearing for every decision you need to make.

Continue reading Triple Constraint: Time, Cost, and Quality

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Outsourcing: Outsiders Working for You

Outsourcing

OutsourcingOutsourcing feels like it’s been around forever. And doubtless, as an adjunct to business operations, it has. But, as a widely-used business strategy, it really only dates to the 1980s.

Since then, outsourcing has become a vital option for large and small business, and for many public services too.

So, what is outsourcing, why do organisations use it as much as they do, and what are the risks?

Continue reading Outsourcing: Outsiders Working for You

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Value Engineering: The Same for Less

Value Engineering: The Same for Less

Value Engineering: The Same for LessHow do some products achieve astonishing quality and functionality at affordable prices? The answer is in the discipline of Value Engineering.

Value Engineering is often tarred with the same brush as ‘cost-cutting‘. Although it has a similar role, it plays to a wholly different business strategy. So, let’s look at what it is and why it matters.

Continue reading Value Engineering: The Same for Less

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Governance: Steering the Good Ship

Governance

GovernanceIn a world filled with temptations to take shortcuts, governance is our defence. It provides us with the direction and control that maintain the standards that serve the many against the carelessness or abuses of those with power.

It feels to this observer that never in my lifetime has the need for governance been as great as it is now.

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Key Performance Indicators: KPIs

Key Performance Indicators - KPIs

Key Performance Indicators - KPIsKey Performance Indicators – or KPIs – stem from an insight that is most often attributed to Peter Drucker, in his 1954 book titled, ‘The Practice of Management’:

‘What gets measured gets managed’

That attribution may be contested, but the central assertion seems pretty sound. If your organisation measures performance against a specific metric, then its managers feel an incentive to manage their parts of the business, so that they perform well against that metric. KPIs are nothing more nor less than the key – or most valuable – metrics.

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The Pareto Principle | The 80-20 Rule

The Pareto Principle | The 80-20 Rule

The Pareto Principle | The 80-20 RuleThe Pareto Principle – also known as the ’80-20 Rule’ – is one of those ideas that crops up in many places. It is ubiquitous because it is an expression of a general principle of nature. It is an example of a power law. Extremely long rivers are rare. Small ones are very common. A small number of words appear frequently within a language, whilst there are very many words that we hardly use at all.

But what makes the Pareto Principle a valuable version of this phenomenon is that it is easy to articulate and understand. And it is therefore easy for managers to apply, to get better results. Consequently, since Joseph Juran rediscovered and named the idea in the 1930s, it has become an indispensable snippet of knowledge, for anyone in management.

Continue reading The Pareto Principle | The 80-20 Rule

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