It has long been a puzzle why so many Lean and Six Sigma implementations, launched with enthusiasm, fanfare, and abundant resources, fall short of expectations or, even worse, simply fail. Satya S. Chakravorty, professor of operations management at Kennesaw State University and a seasoned Six Sigma/Lean practitioner, addresses this question in a recent Wall Street Journal article (January 25, 2010) : “Where Process-Improvement Projects Go Wrong”.
A recent article by F. Kaid Benfield illustrates how Lean principles apply to a debate now taking place among Green Building practitioners. At issue is the fact that six recent award-winning LEED buildings are located such that they are largely or entirely dependent on automobile travel for access.
Those of us who work in Lean tend naturally to be optimists: most of the glasses we see are half-full, ready to be filled to the rim. Admittedly, we sometimes tour a facility for which there really is no hope, but those are the rare exceptions.
Lean, as we teach and practice it, is all about exposing waste in order to make continuous improvement possible, benefiting quality, cost, delivery and people. While we have not focused exclusively on the environmental benefits of Lean, the tools of Lean assist in environmental impacts by reducing the inputs required to build a product or deliver a service.
Caterpillar Corporation, the global manufacturer of heavy equipment for construction and agriculture, has championed Lean thinking for many years, applying Lean and Six Sigma with great success throughout its production, product development and distribution organizations. Today The Wall Street Journal reported that Caterpillar has taken another great Lean leap forward – this time in the procurement of prescription drugs for its employees and retirees.
The Wall Street Journal reported recently on a new trend in retailing: pruning down the huge number of product variations, or stock-keeping units (SKUs), on the nation’s shelves. Driven by their desire to control more and more of retailers’ shelf space, consumer product companies introduced more than 47,000 new products, package sizes or variations in 2008 alone. Retail chain operators, not to mention customers, have finally cried “Enough!” And market researchers are hearing that shoppers feel overwhelmed and confused by too much to choose from – almost 50,000 items in a typical large supermarket.