Who are you when you get your B.A. in political science from the University of Chicago, a Master’s from Harvard in transportation systems, and a Ph.D. in political science from MIT?
You guessed it: James Womack, the one who coined the term “Lean Manufacturing” with co-author Daniel Jones in their landmark book, The Machine That Changed the World (1990). While Womack’s education is in political science, his doctoral dissertation and subsequent work was focused on comparative industrial policy in the United States, Germany, and Japan. That’s how he developed his extensive knowledge and relationships for writing his 1990 book and his follow-up book, Lean Thinking, in 1996.
Womack’s Lean Principles are as follows:
1. Value— Act on what’s important to the customer of the process.
2. Value stream— Understand which steps in the process add value and which don’t.
3. Flow— Keep the work moving at all times and eliminate waste that creates delay.
4. Pull— Avoid making more or ordering more inputs for customer demand you don’t have.
5. Strive for perfection— There is no optimum level of performance; just continually pursue improvements.
While Ohno and Toyota built the house of Lean brick by brick, and while many other companies have adopted TPS principles and practices, Womack brought it all together into a thinkable and deployable system. Womack’s work has also gone a long way in migrating Lean practices into the heart and soul of the entire enterprise, not just the manufacturing functions. Consequently, similar to the path of quality and Six Sigma, the business world has fully awoken to the undeniable fact that Lean is for banks and hospitals and service companies as much as it is for manufacturers.
A bank used Lean to reduce loan-approval processing time from 21 days to 1 day. A hospital reduced the average emergency room patient wait time from 100 minutes to 10 minutes without adding any staff. Southwest Airlines applied Rapid Changeover to achieve best-in-class gate turnaround times. If you have a process (and who doesn’t?), the principles of Lean apply. And who can we thank or acknowledge for this? Even more than the big names like Ford, Ohno, and Womack, we can thank the thousands of companies that stamped Lean’s imprint into their organizations. They are the true testament to Lean’s universal applicability.
So if you understand the principles and aims of Lean, how do you enact them? Typically, you implement Lean changes in your organization through a series of activities called Kaizen Events.