Tighten up!

April 22, 2010
by Shane Tulik

Photo: iStockphoto

About 12 years ago I stood in my office thinking about how I was going to do the impossible. I had recently been promoted to engineering manager of a HVAC equipment manufacturer, and one of my first jobs was to design an entire product line in four months.

Failure to do so could have meant significant sales losses. My role was to lead the effort with the same team that had handled a previous product development project. Typically, it would take more than 2.5 years of work to design for a single product—much less an entire line!

I was feeling overwhelmed when my general manager entered my office. He asked me how the project preparation was going. I told him that I was struggling with it, and he suggested that I consider using a “lean” approach.

I knew little of lean before that point. I soon learned that the term lean was simply something the rest of the world used to describe the way in which Toyota operated its business. I thought the concept was interesting and decided to use the approach with my design team for the new product line. Although we didn’t really know all that lean entailed, we managed to use some lean techniques and found them to be very successful.

This first taste of lean principles was the spark that fuelled my insatiable appetite for learning more about Toyota and how it does what it does. I have since had the opportunity to collaborate with many different organizations that have achieved great success using lean business principles. These principles have also allowed me to advance in my career.

Lean 101
So what are these miracle-working lean principles, and how do they apply to supply chains?

Lean principles are a direct reflection of Toyota’s two core values: respect for people and continuous improvement. The principles are:

1 Challenge. Challenge the process, your people, your customers and your suppliers;

2 Kaizen. Improve the processes of your people, your customers and your suppliers;

3 Respect. Respect your people, your customers and your suppliers;

4 Teamwork. Collaborate at all levels with your people, your customers and your suppliers; and

5 Genchi genbutsu. Go yourself and see the processes that affect your people, your customers and your suppliers.

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