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.
Of all the Lean tools in use throughout industry and health care, procedural checklists have received perhaps the least media attention prior to Atul Gawande’s feature article in The New Yorker on December 10, 2007. Gawande, a respected physician and author, spotlights the remarkable power of checklists to improve the reliability and consistency of medical procedures, and to deliver much improved patient outcomes at lower cost.