180° Wrong Assumptions


It’s hard to understand how people can quite often look at a situation and come to a conclusion that is not just wrong but 180° wrong – the utter and complete opposite conclusion that straight logic would dictate. Yet is happens, and it happens so often that the inane, wrong conclusion very often becomes accepted as correct and assumed by others to be correct without question.

Case in point: “While high-volume operations can more readily adopt lean concepts, there are a lot of tools that other organizations can use.” Huh?

That is from a rather garden variety article about a Calgary company that is heading down the lean trail. Nothing too noteworthy about the lean efforts and progress of Optima Manufacturing. Theirs seems to be a fairly typical lean journey – heavy on tools and feel-good stuff, but they will learn the true magnitude of the change and the incredible potential soon enough. Gotta crawl before you walk and so forth.

It is the line about lean being more applicable to high volume businesses that caught my eye … and caused me to stop and wonder, ‘according to who?’’ and to wonder where on earth that convoluted logic came to be accepted so cavalierly.

And then I came across the same notion again. This time in an article that ranks near the top in the amount of bad advice per sentence among the thousands of business articles I have read recently. In this one, some expert of dubious credentials asserts, “For high-end fashion or branded products, profitable revenue growth requires considerably higher marketing costs, including advertising, licensing, and marketing staff, or outside market research services to gather and analyze consumer data. Getting the product to the customer, a process know [sic] as the supply chain, will have higher costs as fashion products usually involve shorter, less efficient manufacturing runs.”

Now the ‘expert’ may be right for poorly run companies, but the notion that smaller production batches are inherently more costly is absurd. They are only more costly if have no knowledge of lean tools and principles. And of course the idea that you should begin with the premise that your product is inherently more costly and compound it with loads of non-value adding waste such as advertising and marketing staff is just plain ludicrous, but I digress …

Combining the two assertions – small runs are inherently more costly and there is nothing you can do about it but do a lot of smoke and mirror marketing stuff to pass those costs on to customers; and tat lean concepts are more readily applied to high volume operations and have less applicability to factories with lots of product variation. What a load of nonsense!

Am I missing something here? Seems fairly obvious to me that the more set ups a factory has to perform the more valuable set up reduction tools would be. Strikes me as a matter of common sense that if a factory only has one product with no variation the notion of one piece flow would be pretty irrelevant to them; while a factory with lots of products each being sold in small quantities would stand to benefit quite a bit from learning all it can about one piece flow.

In fact, the value of lean is the polar opposite of the notion that it is more applicable to high volume operations. Of course, everyone can benefit enormously from lean thinking because everyone has plenty of non-value adding waste. But on the factory floor the potential benefits from lean are enormously higher for a one off, custom machine builder than they are for a continuous flow chemical or food processor that makes one product flowing through a pipe.

Of course I hear it all the time … we aren’t like Toyota making one product on an assembly line. That goofy statement sounds like something someone would say when their notion of a modern, automotive assembly line is something akin to Lucy making chocolate candy on that now well-known conveyor belt; or they have an assembly line image of the 1920’s Ford Model T line making everything the color customers want them “so long as it is black”.

I suppose lean is easier to slam into a high volume, low mix factory because there is less to change; but it being easier is hardly the same thing as it being valuable or applicable. The bottom line is that, the more variety the factory must deal with, the greater the urgency to adopt lean principles should be.

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