Lean production or manufacturing is a philosophy that focuses on efficiency and eliminating multiple kinds of waste (Muda) from work processes. Initially developed in Japanese automotive factories, lean production has helped many companies worldwide drastically eliminate their inefficiencies, shorten production times and improve their operations. Among the most widely used lean methods include agile software development, just-in-time inventory management, and Kanban scheduling.
The Pros of Lean Methods
1. Waste Elimination
The goal of lean systems is to eliminate multiple forms of waste, from excessive movement to time inefficiencies, excess inventory, overproduction, and defects. If implemented correctly, the waste-elimination benefits of lean methods translate to drastic cost reductions.
2. Less Infrastructure
Since lean methods focus on meeting short-term inventory demand only, lean manufacturers use less space, equipment, human resources, and supplies.
3. Competitive Advantage
Lean management focuses on getting things right the first time. By optimizing processes to avoid mistakes, lean methods reduce the number of defects in products and save on the time, money, and resources that would have otherwise gone to reworking defective products.
The Cons of Lean Methods
1. Inventory Issues
Lean methods typically involve keeping just enough stock to meet near-term demand. This creates a significant dependency on suppliers who may occasionally fail to deliver quickly and efficiently. A slight disruption in the supply chain may cause production delays and, ultimately, delayed product delivery.
2. High Implementation Costs
More often than not, implementing lean management systems for the first time means ending all the existing systems and production processes. This massive transition can be quite costly, considering the need for new equipment, personnel, training programs, and lost revenue.
3. Resistance During Changeover
Lean systems are often radical in their operation and may fail to work as intended without total buy-in from the employees. Implementing this work style requires plenty of patience, especially when handling longer-tenured workers who may be uncomfortable with change.
4. Less Emphasis on Strategy
During the early phases, some companies get so preoccupied with lean implementation that they stray from their overall mission statement. This creates a hyper-focused, shortsighted approach to work at the expense of long-term prosperity.
Owing to its effectiveness, lean production remains quite prevalent many decades after its inception. However, like all good things, lean methods have their fair share of pros and cons. Knowing lean’s potential pitfalls is critical to implementing it almost flawlessly.