The classic case for the study of all things lean is Toyota, and more specifically the Toyota Production System (TPS) pioneered from the 1950s onwards. This development of this methodology of production was credited to Ohno, an engineer with a passion for perfection.
The Toyota production system was a shining example of how principle-led production can become more than just how things get done. It is about why, where and when they get done. It was about focusing energy on the parts that matter, not wasting effort on the things that work well.
To create the environment for focus, Ohno and Toyota created core principles that are pure common sense:
Empowerment – allowing the people who do the job to reimagine their job to make it better
Creativity – seeking hundreds of ideas and using everything you can from wherever it came from
Expertise – relying on deep knowledge and understanding to pursue perfection
Flow – creating continuous, uninterrupted value-adding activities in a natural order
Perfection – pursuing the goal of perfect elegance
What did I learn while reading the books on TPS? That discovering the true value you add is challenging, but once you have found it you know it. It is like love at first sight. You just know. The job of lean is to discover value and to stop doing the things that do not add value completely. To discover value, you have to look at the whole picture, not the details inbetween.
Understanding the whole picture means “seeing” everything. This is what lean practitioners call the value stream - and it begins and ends with the customer, not the producer. The point is to remove waste and reduce the time from zero to value to the minimum time possible.
When you understand the value stream, you can then design your production methods to allow value to flow. This means aiming for frictionless production where value is added at each step of the production process. The goal is to minimize waste of all types and to ensure that the thing of value moves forward, not back, through the process. Our eyes perceive flow – so to gain flow you must institute simple visual cues that allow everyone to understand that something has arrived, is being worked on and is ready to leave your section of the production process. This ensures people behind you keep giving you things at the right speed and that you give people in front of you things at the right speed. Regular frequency is more important than raw speed.
Once you have attained flow, you want to ensure that you don’t push unwanted goods out of your production line (think unneeded features or iterations in web development). Instead, you need to design things for demand from the customer (or pull). Pull is difficult to achieve, as it needs everything to be working in flow and everyone in the value stream to be in step. The purpose of pull thinking is to eliminate waste before, during or after the production process. You make what you sell, not sell what you make. That way you do not have unwanted inventory, have to discount prices to move old stock, or have capital tied up that could be put to better use.
The final step brings in the concept of Kaizen (or continuous improvement) to the equation. It is the pursuit of perfection. In Kaizen there are three steps; create a standard; follow it; make it better. The pursuit of perfection is a continuous process that never ends. The final step also brings into play another important concept – elegance.
The pursuit of perfection seeks to embody elegance in the value delivered to the customer. Elegance is simplicity on the other side of complexity – not easily achieved, but once down so seems obvious to all.
So when focusing, the things that matter are the value you can add to your customer, the elimination of waste and the creation of flow. If you can focus on these business will be good – trust me on that J