Lean principle #3: Product or problems


One of the biggest differences between Lean management and classical management is the way they define success. Classical management focuses on results. Its motto is “do whatever it takes to hit the numbers”. The only acceptable outcome from a process is the product or service it is supposed to provide. This is apparently ok (who likes failure?), but hides a great problem: if you only care about results, you will only get results. This is worse than you think. First, nobody will perform over the standard (if you want 1000 parts/ hour, why should I give you more?) and second, everybody will do anything possible to get the results, which includes cheating and hiding problems.

Lean manufacturing accepts 2 types of outcomes from the process: product or problems. “Product” has a more strict meaning than in classical management: it’s not only about the number, but also about how you get it. You must follow the standard and comply with Morale, Health, Quality, Delivery and Cost targets. Any deviation from any of them is a “problem” that must be understood and solved. “Problems” are not only accepted but welcome.

Lean vs Clasical management

Does this mean that Lean does not care about profit or results? Absolutely not. Lean is probably the most result-oriented management system ever designed. However, Lean practitioners know this: it is ok to sacrifice the short-term to protect the long-term. It is ok to spend time and money finding problems to be more competitive in the future. It is ok to stop production and put in place improvement solutions to be more effective tomorrow. Lean is, fundamentally, a learning system.

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