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Lean: The Human Dimension

Autor:   •  July 9, 2017  •  Essay  •  2,985 Words (12 Pages)  •  936 Views

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Lean is a systems based theory that, though inspiring, has had mixed success within business (Balle, Beauvallet, Smalley & Sobek, 2007) and, given the pitch above, has not materialised within organisations as may have been expected. Given the systems nature, focus and limited success of the philosophy it is evident that there is a need to reflect on its boundaries as a concept. This paper in particular aims to reflect on the role that the human dimensions plays in the implementation, perpetuation and success of Lean. Further with this appreciation of the Human Dimension Demings’ view of the system is challenged. Though this may be evident in production orientated organisations the effects are amplified in service industries (Bicheno, 2012).

When analysing lean philosophy Deming’s work is certainly seminal. The Deming cycle features strongly in many tools and processes within Lean, and arguably defines the perspective. Of particular relevance, to this report, is his 94/6 rule, which states that 94 percent of any occurrence (problem) within an organisation is due the system/process and only 6 percent can be attributed to people (Bicheno & Holweg, 2016). The contention is thus that the organisations’ functioning is fairly independent of the Human Dimension beyond having people there. This argument is supported by numerous studies including the joint Toyota-GM Plant NUMMI where a failing company was completely turned around by simply addressing the system and keeping the same people (Bicheno & Holweg, 2016). Despite a system focus, and in favour of this assertion, great consideration has been made for human factors within lean. Its practices work with these factors to embed its philosophy and sustain its concepts.

Facets of Lean

The human dimension is appreciated in most, if not all areas of lean. The idea of “going to the Gembe” for example considers that leaders often do not have a comprehensive view of what is happening where the action is. In fact it encourages the acknowledgement that those actually involved, each and every workers unique experience, has a valuable contribution to give and encourages leaders to observe and engage with this information emphasizing respect and humility (Schein, 2013; Bicheno & Holweg, 2016). The notion and practice of Kata as a basic routine or pattern of behaviour is further appreciative of the human mind. The slow repetitive process of kata capitalises on how people learn, the iterative and cyclical nature promotes habit and embeds the process and material into the brain. Recognizable patterns of behaviour with clear expectations make it easy to identify deviations and provide a basis of improvement (Rother, 2010; Schacter, Gilbert, Wegner & Hood., 2015). Change is synonymous with lean, processes like change management and the change curve illustrate how challenging change is for people. It can be difficult to accept and in fact be rejected, especially if the change is dramatic. It thus stands to reason that appreciation for lesser milestones would allow for easier acceptance of change or improvement

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initiatives. Kaizen, or continuous change for the better, encourages such small improvements and teaches people to value these changes in the right direction (Amabile & Kramer, 2011).

All schools of thought that have contributed to lean are heavily cognisant of the human dimension including Training Within Industry (TWI), Job Relations, waste considering the 8th element and socio-technology to name a few (Bicheno, 2012; Bicheno & Holweg, 2016). Given this thoughtful approach that compensates quite comprehensively for the Human Dimension a system can be fathomed where the 94/6 principle exists. In true Lean spirit the aim is to achieve a state of predictability and eradicate variability allowing for understanding of and certainty from the system. With the 94/6 principle as a contention the inconsistencies often associated with the human dimension including mood, emotion, feelings, and belief are considerably diminished. The focus is thus on the system, playing the game and not the individuals. Lean thus appears to be an obvious choice, a natural next step however this is often not the case or is unsuccessful. There appear to be elements that are not systematically considered that wouldn’t allow for this different approach or paradigm shift. A paradigm shift may be an understatement as the lean methodology regularly disobeys the traditional rules or supposed accepted/known facts (Bicheno & Holweg, 2016). Thus even initiating the Lean approach has its hurdles to overcome.

Lobbying for Lean

Great consultation is required when implementing any new interventions, including Lean. Buy-in and support is required from the decision makers and stakeholders who need to be convinced. Though Lean has the potential to provide significant change, logic and reason play a significant role when opting for its implementation. Given the traditional paradigms this is where Lean meets its first challenge with the Human Dimension – logic and reason need to be addressed to promote the choice to implement. The concepts are challenging as they are often counter-intuitive and contravene the accepted normal paradigms and practices.

As a common example, the idea of decreasing inventory to what is needed to satisfy current demand is a regular and simple approach in Lean, yet a powerful concept (Bicheno & Holweg, 2016). It allows companies to be more nimble, free cash and allows a finger on the pulse of the business with greater control. When viewed from traditional paradigms this is certainly not the case. While working in the mining industry this has never been the approach and considering other markets can be a difficult concept to float. Producing as much as possible and stockpiling or bulking up inventory is viewed as an opportunity to control the market, especially during these current volatile economic periods and with fluctuating prices. In fact it is often necessary to survive. South Africa in particular is known for its unpredictable periods of labour unrest that can cripple economies leave alone mighty organisations and without doubt small businesses. Dipping into reserves during weeks or months’ to stay afloat is one of many exceptions that contradict this concept. Inventory is instead viewed as an asset and synonymous with a strong and thriving organisation. It adds, often quite significantly, to an organisations balance sheet and overall worth. Working with the financials provides similar contradictions.

Accounting for numerous business costs and finding profit amongst the figures, bolsters the view of attaining 100% utilization, over-producing and achieving maximum capacity at all times. Lean instead advocates for a moderate


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