Lean manufacturing is resiliency

Posted by Kathleen Fasanella on Nov 9, 2005 at 10:32 am / Lean Manufacturing / Trackback

I’ve been working with DEs (designer-entrepreneurs) for nearly 15 years now. Through out that time, I have been gratified -but usually dismayed- by how DEs typically manage growth and success. As long as they’re operating at a low level, many DEs seem to function quite well. Paradoxically, the thing that buries them is success! For example, if you’re working along in your small shop with two or three others, managing your own limited production, my book may seem like overkill but if you want to position yourself for moving to the next level, the systems of blocks, working with contractors and cutting to order will become paramount. In this same vein Yossi Sheffi, professor of engineering systems at MIT has authored a new book entitled The Resilient Enterprise: Overcoming Vulnerability for Competitive Advantage.

In a review by Jonathan Byrnes (published in Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge newsletter), Sheffi’s book is introduced in terms of the dangers of success with a quote from Daryl Wyckoff -“Success often hurts, and even mortally wounds, well-run small businesses“.


While the book seems to focus primarily on supply chain management (Sheffi is director of MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics) the core of Sheffi’s work gravitates toward substantiating known concepts of lean manufacturing. Byrnes summarizes Sheffi’s book by saying that companies can build flexibility through process and structural changes such as interchangeable parts (pattern blocks) standardized production facilities (controlled sewing processes) to say nothing of just-in-time product development (cutting to order), eliminating the need of costly inventory and carrying excess capacity. Lastly, Brynes emphasizes Sheffi’s preoccupation with corporate culture saying that resilient companies push decision making to their outer limits. Jason Robb concurs the lean view saying

Yossi’s view is that resilient companies have a corporate culture that pushes decision making to the periphery. In Toyota, for example, anybody on the production line can stop the line if they see a problem. This culture of responsibility runs from the top to the bottom. “People in resilient organizations know that when disruption is evident there is no time to go through the bureaucratic processes.”

According to this NPR interview, Sheffi defines resilient organizations as mindful ones (see this related article), organizations with low decision levels so that the solving of problems is not delayed. He further describes resilient organizations as those having redundancies -which no doubt makes lean practioners uncomfortable- but further defines redundancies as flexibility. A contractor I’ve known has always said that DEs should have multiple contractors even if they don’t seem to need them; in the event of a work stoppage, the work of one facility can cover the shortfall of the other. Sheffi describes the prototypical nightmare scenario as one in which an organization does not know it is the subject of an attack. Again, his solution is pushing decision making ability further down to increase flexible response. For you this means that while it may be costly if the stitchers on the floor stop the line over a mis-cut collar, their decision has given you the opportunity to re-cut the thing in a timely manner rather than constructing the product and dealing with all of the subsequent and even more costly returns. Sheffi says the greatest problem facing government and industry is the tendency of our culture to assign blame. Reiterating the need for open product reviews, a DE must be mindful that if someone brings up a problem, one’s first response is to understand how the problem was manifest, and not to find someone to blame for the problem. In a culture of blame, no one will discuss problems lest the finger be inadvertedly pointed at them. Your product review (style meetings) must be blame-free, otherwise, no one will speak up to prevent huge wastes of money (see pp 75-80 of The Entrepreneur’s Guide).

Lastly, I’m encouraged by Sheffi’s obvious adherence to systems thinking (he is a professor of systems engineering) as that is the only way to understand lean manufacturing. If systems thinking sounds too obscure to be practical in your business, consider this definition from Wikipedia:

Systems thinking involves the use of various techniques to study systems of many kinds. It includes studying things in a holistic way, rather than purely reductionist techniques. It aims to gain insights into the whole by understanding the linkages, interactions and processes between the elements that comprise the whole “system”. Systems thinking can help avoid the silo effect, where a lack of organizational communication can cause a change in one area of a system to adversely affect another area of the system.

This is another book I’ll be adding to my Amazon wish list. I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say about it too.

4 Responses to “Lean manufacturing is resiliency”

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jinjer
November 12th, 2005
9:08 AM

I’ve been reading about Deming, and it’s very interesting to see where lean came from.

I think the best way to teach a company lean principles would be to teach them them Deming’s fourteen points in an intensive workshop, and then on the second-to-last day, say “but Demingism is inherently wasteful–see you tomorrow when we’ll talk about the Toyota Production System.”

At least Deming has a semi-traditional role for managers, so it’s a good way to ease into the idea of continuous improvement. And once they’ve been through two mind-bends, they should be ready for the continual mindbend that is TPS, yes?

Speaking of mindbends, a passage from the book I’m reading really gelled for me something that’s been bothering me. namely: Deming says quality is meaningless unless defined by customer needs. (Duh, right?) So, if a woman doesn’t care what the inside of her sewn product looks like, and doesn’t care how long it wil last, but does value endless change and novel designs, then the energy put into improving the pattern and stitching quality is muda. Hence Forever21….and check out the recent lawsuit against them by their garment workers.
tee hee.

Vesta
December 20th, 2005
6:16 PM

“A contractor I’ve known has always said that DEs should have multiple contractors even if they don’t seem to need them; in the event of a work stoppage, the work of one facility can cover the shortfall of the other.”

There is another reason it’s good to have several contractors, and to train them on ALL of your products. If you get a huge order at some point you can stop everything and shift everyone over to that one product until you crank out the order. It’s big company capacity with little company resources.

Learned that from a very smart woman who’s been in the industry for years.

Suzanne
November 23rd, 2007
1:51 PM

There is another reason it’s good to have several contractors, and to train them on ALL of your products. If you get a huge order at some point you can stop everything and shift everyone over to that one product until you crank out the order. It’s big company capacity with little company resources.

I am learning this the hard way! True, true, true, TRUE!

Tina
November 20th, 2009
7:38 AM

I’ve had the privilege of seeing the Toyota manufacturing plant in Japan in action and it is a truly beautiful thing. As a degreed engineer, who specialized in Lean Manufacturing and who is now attempting to start a garment manufacturing facility, it is my hope to put this book in my reading queue very soon. The concept of blame is a big problem in the factories of any industry – lean manufacturing has the potential to get the line workers more excited and involved in their jobs, but the psychology of the old “push” systems have to be overcome. When the Toyota line stopped, people scurried to fix the problem, got back to their station and things started back up immediately. It’s a matter of feeling ownership and responsibility for the success of the company, no matter what your “level” is. When each person feels they are a valuable part of things, and that others are counting on them, they take responsibility (not blame) for what happened at their station and move on. This is the ideal, of course, which is the whole philosophy behind Lean – continuously moving toward the ideal of efficiency, fulling knowing you can never reach it, but plugging ahead anyway.

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