• Stephen A. Ruffa

Lean vs. the learning curve

It is startling to see how often managers mix lean methods with traditional methods and run into problems. Worse yet, few seem to understand why.

Consider one example: Implementing lean in conjunction with the age old concept of ”the learning curve.” This is always a bad idea. Why? Because the learning curve is a tool for accommodating poorly understood limitations within operations. Conversely, lean operations are intended to be tightly planned from the outset, leaving little room for the operational creep that the learning curve is intended to accommodate. Including this as part of a lean solution is, as one lean guru once emphasized to me, points to a real problem. Yet, managers often see it as just another aspect of continuous improvement.

Does this mean that traditional practices should be dropped immediately when an organization embarks on its lean journey? Absolutely not. Doing so would likely cause substantial turmoil, particularly for large corporations. But a distinction should be made between traditional methods and lean methods – anything less can cause unforeseen problems that will be difficult to troubleshoot.

This is one of many reasons that the trend of applying lean methods as an "experiment" has led to so many failures, and why a centralized strategy is so critically needed.

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