William Shakespeare once said, “that which we call a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” It was true way back then and still remains true today, but what does that have to do with LEAN Manufacturing or wire and cable? As it turns out, there’s a lot in a name, so I often wonder what someone was thinking when they decided to coin the phrase “LEAN Manufacturing” when referring to a continuous improvement program for manufacturing.
I mean sure, the most notable method to come along in decades for transforming an average company with increasingly competitive pressures into a force to be reckoned with, needed to be called something, but LEAN?
The word just doesn’t seem to give a good first impression, and Lord knows that if you’re going to introduce a methodology for changing the entire culture of the company, you’d better hope you make a good first impression.
Nowhere did this become more apparent than when I made the decision to introduce the methodologies used in LEAN Manufacturing to our company—a small 90 year old, manufacturing job-shop and a long-time union shop to boot. Trying to suggest that LEAN Manufacturing may be our only hope for survival in the future was like insinuating that we had been doing things wrong all along.
“What are you trying to say? That we’ve just been name “LEAN Manufacturing” for the best continuous lucky for the past 90 years and we really don’t know improvement process for an old line company to com- what we’re doing?”
Naturally this was not the case, but it sure seemed that way by the tone of the quick, defensive statements that I can still hear echoing through the room.
“OK, what do we have to cut back now?”
“I don’t know how you can cut back on people when we already don’t have enough hours in the day to get everything done.”
Perhaps statements like these are the remnants of a hangover from the late 80s and 90s when so many large companies were attempting to impress share holders and improve profitability by “downsizing”. Or was it “rightsizing”? Like I said, there’s a lot in a name and it didn’t matter which one of these politically cor- rect names you used because either way it meant that people were going to lose their jobs. Once the damage was done and the smoke cleared, these companies now could claim they were “LEAN & MEAN.”
Now 25 years later, that phrase still resonates loud and clear, at the very mention of a new direction called Lean Manufacturing.
Granted, in many ways the word lean in Lean Manufacturing does represent less. Less wasted operator movement, less downtime, less inventory and less time that customers have to wait to get what they want. But in many ways, Lean means more. More available capacity, more productive up-time on our machines, more accommodating working conditions for people to get their work done, more potential to create jobs and best of all, more satisfied customers. When it comes right down to it, isn’t that what every manufacturer really wants.
This is definitely one of those cases where I wish the names were changed to protect the innocent. The bottom line is that there’s a lot in a name, and if I had been asked, way back when, what I thought about the name “LEAN Manufacturing” for the best continuous improvement process for an old line company to compete in a global economy, it probably wouldn’t have been my first choice.
On the other hand, we’re using it, we’re dealing with it and we’re a better company because of it.