Engineer and consultant Pascal Dennis’s Toyota sensei (teachers) instructed him on how to summarize the Lean production system succinctly yet elegantly. Dennis starts with the history and purpose of Lean, which is to do more with less while providing excellent customer value. Think of Lean production as a house with stability and standardization as its foundation, customer values its roof, and “just-in-time” and quality control its pillars. The heart is the workforce, from the shop floor to the executive suite. Lean is a process for continuous learning, with perfection as the goal.
The Lean production system evolved out of necessity. In Japan in 1950, mass auto production was not feasible.
Manufacturers built the first automobiles to customer specifications. They were expensive. Frederick Winslow Taylor introduced mass production in the early 20th century. It relied on standardization and measurement that focused on continuous improvement. Henry Ford took this further with the assembly line and interchangeability of parts. Workers had to adapt to the new mechanisms, resulting in pointless, soul-destroying repetition, which encouraged the union labor movement. Accounting systems in mass production depended on the wasteful practice of keeping inventory instead of satisfying customer demand. This system suited neither Japanese markets nor budgets.
Taiichi Ohno, the great sensei of the Toyota Production System, spent 50 years perfecting it. Toyota had to produce a variety of car models to suit a segmented buying public. It contended with fixed and falling prices and tough competition. Cost for capital was rising, and workers demanded more involvement. After radical downsizing and cost cutting, Toyota, in ...
Winner of four Shingo Prizes for Excellence, Pascal Dennis is an engineer, author and president of Lean Pathways, an international consultancy.