The Wall Street Journal and "The Drawbacks of Lean Manufacturing"

Back in July, an article, authored by Daisuke Wakabayashi and Jung-ah Lee appeared in The Wall Street Journal that reported such companies as Apple Inc. and Nissan are experiencing delays in production because their respective suppliers cannot fill the currently increased demand for certain parts required in popular products. The authors claim that the reason for this these shortages stem from "the drawbacks of lean manufacturing methods, which call for carrying little inventory but make supply snags tougher to offset" and generally believe that "the pitfalls of Lean manufacturing methods, a hallmark of cash-rich and efficient companies, arise when parts either prove faulty or in short supply."

Previous to this article, I had never seen Apple referred to as a Lean organization -- I've come across no other articles that have described the company as such, and I've never seen Apple reference it in its literature. Surely the authors could have provided a bit more discussion about Apple's global supply chain and how it functions before making the claim to help warrant their argument.

This article has come up quite periodically during discussions with colleagues during the past month, and I'd very much like to hear readers' opinions and thoughts about it. What was your reaction when you first read this article?


The Lean Plateau

According to this article on the Supply Chain Brain forum, which details survey results provided by Capgemini Consulting, "dissatisfaction with lean initiatives is highest one to two years after initial launch." As expected, the initial enthusiasm resulting from practical process improvements of first-time kaizen events and the application of Lean tools soon gives way to stagnation or backsliding because "long-term behavioral changes have not yet become embedded in the organization." In other words, if an organization's culture is not altered or transformed, the Lean initiative will eventually hit a sluggish plateau.

The article contends that the absence of four correctly functioning key factors -- Leadership, Recognition, Strategic Alignment, and Performance Management -- often lead to an initiative's inability to sustain. I have always maintained that there is that crucial disconnect between the application of Lean tools and and true behavioral change when participants are just "applying" but not "understanding." In your experiences, what causes Lean initiatives to stall? Can participants who expressed enthusiasm and optimism for the Lean initiative when it commenced, but are now disheartened at two-year mark, be reinvigorated?


So Lean, What Have You Done for New Hampshire Lately?

According to this article authored by Catherine Blake and published on the Business NH Magazine website, the New Hampshire Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NHMEP) the economic effect of Lean in New Hampshire during the past five years has been "305 new jobs, 593 retained jobs that didn't go off-shore or get eliminated, $194.9 million increase in sales, $75.2 million spent on new investment, and... $29.1 million in cost savings." The article contends the reason why all companies don't embrace Lean initiatives "has everything to do with human capital" and the investment in training to build Lean culture. What many New Hampshire manufactures don't know is that a grant is available "for qualified prospects through Governor John Lynch's job training fund."

Some of the New Hampshire companies that have benefited from successful Lean adoptions are:
RF Hunter (a maker of oil filtration systems), Salient Surgical Technologies (a developer of technologies to simplify surgeons' work), High Liner Foods (a processor and marketer of seafood products), and BAE Systems (a global defense, security, and aerospace company).


Lean as a Political Platform

The Lean Insider blog is not endorsing any particular candidate for the Senate seat in Washington state, but in terms of political angles, I could not help but find one of independent candidate Paul Akers' positions quite interesting. In this article published on the Edmonds Beacon site, Akers (the owner of FastCap -- a product development company that makes woodworking tools and equipment) believes he is a different type of candidate because he is a "Lean manufacturer" and "Lean thinker" and would use this methodology to reshape the government culture if elected.

Although many politicians speak of eliminating waste in government, Akers feels most don't have the proper skills to accomplish it. He contends, however, that his background in owning and managing a company that "empowers people to eliminate waste every day" makes him especially qualified.

Here's Akers' summation of his "10 to Lean" plan: "You cut taxes by 10 percent, you cut spending by 10 percent, across the board, for three consecutive years, and implement a Lean strategy throughout the federal government. Every federal agency will have one Lean thinker who will teach people how to eliminate waste and increase quality. By default, that will shrink the size of the federal government, shrink spending, create more jobs, and more opportunity for everyone with lower taxes. It’s a winning formula."

I'm sure this is the first instance in which I've heard such an explicit use of Lean as part of a political campaign. What are you thoughts? I welcome all insightful comments.