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Common misconceptions about KAIZEN/Lean

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Despite having been fairly main stream for going on three decades now, there are a surprising number of concerns and misconceptions surrounding the concept of Lean Manufacturing.  Often, the fears centers around layoffs and general concerns about change. 

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Standard work takes away creativity: Employees may think that standard work may make their job monotonous or make them feel like robots as it limits the flexibility of doing the work. But the fact is our working environment is getting complex and if the standards are used smartly it can actually help to liberate the procedures.

KAIZEN/Lean means getting rid of inventory: Reducing inventory is not the objective of Lean or let’s say reduction in inventory is actually the result of lean, not its method. All lean companies have high inventory turns, but all companies with high inventory turns are not necessarily lean. Reducing inventories without fixing the underlying problems that cause the need for the inventories is not only ‘not lean’ but it is just plain stupid. The main reason of inventory reduction is to expose problems which are hidden due to high inventory. These problems will not be visible unless you reduce the inventory. The skill is once these problems are exposed how fast you respond and resolve these problems. Lean tools can help to resolve them with a speed. Its not only reducing the cycle time but reducing the time to resolve the exposed problems.

Japanese companies are lean: There is nothing inherently Japanese about Lean manufacturing, nor are Japanese people naturally better at Lean than any other people. Japanese companies tend to think long-term, and the system of lifetime employment does tend to support people development and involvement, so it is true to say that many Japanese companies have better groundwork to support Lean.

KAIZEN/Lean is only for manufacturing: The idea of Lean Manufacturing is just as applicable to offices and other work environments as it is to manufacturing plants. It’s helpful to relate words like “inventory,” “customers,” and “production” to whatever you’re processing – data, documents, knowledge, services, and so on.

KAIZEN/Lean is about squeezing more out of people: The fact is if Lean applied correctly can help to double the output for example without working harder. The only thing that may be squeezed out of people is IDEAS. Lean manufacturing means finding efficiencies and removing wasteful steps that don’t add value to the end product and it might actually require less effort to manufacture or deliver service.

KAIZEN/Lean makes work easier: This is what the top management think or use to sell Lean to the people who is going to drive it but the fact that needs to be understand is that the time that is freed upon has to be filled by line balancing or process improvement tasks. 

KAIZEN/Lean is just for cost reduction: The leading cause of Lean Manufacturing failure is failure to change a company’s culture. The fact is if you don’t change your culture, all of your lean-inspired efforts will look merely like management driven cost reduction programs to your employees. Lean manufacturing is about making the work easier and less frustrating so that time at work can be spent on what matters, serving customers and growing as people. Cost reductions will follow.

KAIZEN/Lean means reduction in jobs:  If a leader thinks this there will never, ever be any support for an improvement project. Forget about people taking responsibility people just wont play a role if it will cost them their job. Therefore the best way to avoid layoffs and hiring of additional manpower. 

KAIZEN/Lean is the latest management fad: There are probably some who would automatically switch off at the very mention of Lean Management. It could be dismissed as ‘just another management fad’. But actually there is something to it and it is worth considering the positive aspects of Lean. Lean is predominately about creating a learning organisation with empowered and autonomous workers. Nonetheless, there are some basic principles which can help organizations/people with understanding a lean management way of thinking. The main focus of lean is on finding efficiencies in production through the elimination of all waste for example. This is a useful way of thinking.

There are many more misconceptions which you might come across but this list basically points out or says that KAIZEN/Lean is NOT EASY and requires relentless study and practice to do it well.

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Author: Kaizen Institute - India!

Kaizen Institute – India is part of the Global Kaizen Institute operations. Kaizen Institute was established by Sensei Masaaki Imai, the GURU of Kaizen. He wrote the 1st book 28 yrs ago and that is when it all started . We operate in 30+ countries today and have over 400+ coaches helping more then 600 organizations Learn, Apply, Sustain – Kaizen/ Operational Excellence. In India we have two physical offices – Pune & Ahmedabad and 27 coaches in all.

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