Thursday, November 17, 2005

Lean Solutions by Womack & Jones

I've raced through my latest book, sign of a good book, an interesting read, and most of all, a sign of large print!

This month's book has been Lean Solutions by Womack and Jones (2005), two of the original authors of The Machine That Changed the World (Womack, Jones & Roos, 1991).

In some ways, Lean Solutions is an update of the earlier book for the start of the 21st century. It updates the ideas with some good examples from outside Toyota. I particular like the Tesco example, and the study of the sports shoes.

Did you know that training-shoes (sneakers) need to be ordered 5 months in advance? Or that Nike alone produces more sample shoes than the fourth largest manufacturer? (And that was before Adidas bought Reebok, so I guess it's more shoes in the third largest manufacturer now.) It all because the industry is not lean.

Order have to be made so far in advance so they can be sent to Asia for manufacture. They have to manufacture enough to ship a large container to the US or Europe. And that transport takes time. That needs to be divided into smaller loads and distributed. There are delays and buffer stocks at every stage.

So, not only is there a lot of surplus in the system but the company isn’t very responsive and customers often find items out of stock. In fact, it puts the whole economics of lowest-cost manufacturing into doubt - and all that implies for offshore production.

The book focuses on customer rather than manufacturing. The authors identify the main customer problem today: lack of time. So it is fitting that several of their studies are drawn from service industries such as medical care and car maintenance.

But the authors go beyond lean thinking and case studies. They envisage a world where lean is the norm, they discuss how the world could be and how all our lives could be improved. The author’s set an agenda that you massive change the way the world works.

If you know a bit about lean this will teach you a lot more. If you know about lean from older books this will update you. And if you want to be lean this will give you some good examples and stories to tell.