Exploding some myths
It is wrong to equate “Japanese ” with “lean” production and “Western” with “mass” production. In fact,
some plants in Japan are not particularly lean, and a number of Japanese-owned plants in North America
have demonstrated that Lean production can be practiced far away from Japan. At the same time, the best
American-owned plants in North America show that Lean production can be implemented fully by Western
companies. Moreover the best plants in the developing countries show that Lean production can be
introduced anywhere in the world.
An important point the authors make is that high-tech plants that are improperly organized end up adding
about as many indirect technical and service workers as they remove unskilled direct workers from manual
assembly tasks. What’s more, they have a hard time maintaining high yield, because breakdowns in the
complex machinery reduce the fraction of the total operating time that a plant is actually producing
vehicles. Lean organization must come before high-tech process automation if a company is to gain the full
The truly Lean plant has two key organizational features:
Tasks & responsibilities are transferred to those workers actually adding value to the car on the line. There is a system for detecting defects that quickly traces every problem, once discovered, to its ultimate cause.
This, in turn, means teamwork among linen workers and a simple but comprehensive information display
system that makes it possible for everyone in the plant to respond quickly to problems and to understand the
plant ’s overall situation.
In the end, it is the dynamic work team that emerges as the heart of the Lean factory. Building these efficient
teams is not simple. First, workers need to be taught a wide variety of skills so that tasks can be rotated and
workers can fill in for each other. Workers also need to be good at simple machine repair, quality checking,
housekeeping, and materials-ordering. They must also have the ability to think proactively to devise
solutions before problems become serious.
Lean production should be viewed as a strategy for achieving value leadership. It goes well beyond cost-cutting
. First, Lean production dramatically raises the threshold of acceptable quality to a level that mass
production, cannot easily match. Second, Lean production offers over-expanding product variety and rapid
responses to changing consumer tastes, something low-wage mass production finds hard to counter except
through ever lower prices. Lean production also dramatically lowers the amount of high-wage effort needed
to produce a product of a given description, and it keeps reducing it through continuous incremental
improvement. This means competition from low-wage workers is not a threat. Finally, Lean production can
fully utilize automation in ways mass production cannot, further reducing the advantage of low wages.
The Machine That Changed the World book by James P.Womack, Daniel T.Jones, Daniel Roos