What’s hiding under our waters?

What’s hiding under our waters?

My day job involves much draining of water to expose what lies below or by cleaning and sweeping and organizing things. No, I am not a water disaster recovery specialist or a house-keeper. I am a teacher of the Toyota Production System. There are few metaphors more potent in the Lean lexicon than the classic “rocks and water” illustrated below.

Excess inventory generally means an organization is struggling to turn over inventory and make sales. It also leads to significant costs, lengthened Lead Times & inventory management requirements that have disadvantages of its own.  

Inventory is a symptom of managing production and logistics by “push” which means making or moving goods and services without a clear signal from the customer or downstream process. Therefore lowering metaphorical water (inventory) helps the organizations to make the problems visible and allows addressing the problems which in turn helps the organization to design a streamlined & responsive production and logistics system that is based on a pull.

This same metaphor or the rocks & water applies at many other levels and in different situations. Kaizen/Lean tools & techniques such as 5s, tpm, tqm, standard work, etc are like rock above sea (visible) or we say attempts by organization to implement Kaizen/Lean practices. While what is not visible is the rock beneath the water or we say those invisible behaviours, attitudes, strategies, assumptions, etc. Kaizen/Lean implementation fails when organizations fail to look under the water   and address these invisible issues.


 Remember Kaizen/Lean tools & techniques are the principles, and philosophies put into visible & concrete practices. The way we cannot separate the visible & invisible rock in the sea, similarly organizations cannot separate visible & invisible tools, behaviours, culture, etc as they are part of one rock (organization) only. Despite of this there has been a trend to de-emphasize the importance of Kaizen/lean processes, tools and methods, techniques in favor of the softer side of the mindsets and behaviors.

Kaizen/Lean tools not only helps to improve performance but also helps to make behaviours visible by making the hidden rocks visible or lowering down the level of water. One piece FLOW (Material & Information) forces us to expose, contain and solve our problems rapidly and this requires not just Kaizen/lean tools but a Lean organization structure that drives such behaviors. And once the flow is taken care of it automatically helps to improve the cash flow.

So we encourage such unity of Kaizen/Lean tools and techniques with the mindsets, assumptions, behaviour and go on with such examples.

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