Is "going lean" different from being flexible?
Is the reason for going lean limited to cutting costs? This is an important question raised by the Industry Week article, Small Manufacturers Need to be Agile, Not Lean. Small businesses (like many other organizations) are often told that lean is about cutting out the waste. Yet, as this article points out, driving out excesses is hardly something new for small companies, particularly today, since many must already keep costs low in order to compete.
So why bother? Because going lean is about much more than cutting costs. It’s about shifting from a way of doing business that does well when conditions remain fairly stable and predictable (the environment for which traditional management methods were developed), to one that is better suited to the kind of constant change and uncertainty that today has become the norm. But this takes reaching beyond the tools-centric mentality that has become far too prominent and gaining a deeper understanding of its history and intent.
So this article has it right… partly. Cost cutting alone is probably not enough to motivate many to embark on what they probably see as a painful journey. Lean is about becoming more agile, as this article states, but not just for small businesses. Small and large organizations have demonstrated the dramatic benefits of what lean is really intended to achieve (what I call lean dynamics). Their results show that lean can enable organizations across different industries to advance across a range of conditions. With it they continue to operate smoothly, roll out new innovations, create new opportunities–and profit during some of the most challenging times.
And who would argue that this is important for businesses of all types, especially in the environment they face today?