A lot has been written about Lean Manufacturing Tools, Concepts, Techniques. And, rightly so – they work: they are practical, simple, and are accessible to anybody willing to learn and apply it to their specific work. But, less is written about the principles behind the tools. This is unfortunate because what happens with zealous learners is that once a tool or technique is learned, it can potentially be misapplied. The adage of “once we learn how to use a hammer, everything looks like a nail” can be the outcome. A countermeasure to that from happening is to see the tool in the larger context. Perhaps the chart below will help:
The simple chart above can be helpful in helping us see the broader picture and can prevent us from misapplying a tool to the wrong problem.
Principles and Tools
If we understand tools to be the natural application of principles, then that makes the system of Lean Manufacturing even more powerful. Why? Well, principles, regardless of context, are relevant. For example, the principle of “produce only the amount the customer wants” is a good one regardless of industry. This means that this principle can be applied with the tools of Kanban, Takt Time, and Standard Work to ANY industry. This approach literally takes Lean Manufacturing off the shop floor and into other industries, such as healthcare, internet commerce, and other industries.
A Lesson from Martial Arts
A less known but very efficient martial art is the Filipino Martial Arts, also known as Escrima or Kali. If you have seen the Bourne Identity movies, then you’ve seen Kali in action. In Kali/Escrima, there is an emphasis on sticks – single and double, as well as the blade or knife. In fact, training in Kali begins with the stick. What is interesting is that the movements with the stick and blade are the same. In fact, without the stick or blade, the empty hand technique applies the same movements without weapons. What we learn from this is that the movements, flow, and principles still hold regardless if there’s a knife in your hand, one stick in your hand, two sticks in your hands, or you have empty hands. Watch the video below to see how the movements and flow are the same, regardless of whether there’s a weapon in your hand or empty hands. In conclusion, principles matter. Tools change, but in general principles stay the same. As such, how we apply the principle can be applied to any industry. And when we do, we might have to adjust the tool as a manifestation of the principle. No dogma is involved. Just pragmatism.
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