Is Lean more than warmed over JIT?

Recently I heard a speaker disclaim that Lean was just warmed over and repackaged Just-In-Time; nothing new. For some reason I dismissed the thought as rubbish. But his comments got me thinking. So, what’s different about Lean? 

In The Machine That Changed the World, Womack & Jones coined the term "lean production" as a synonym of "JIT," it has caught on and made the earlier label somewhat obsolete. People who still talk about JIT are often dismissed as stale peddling yesterday’s panacea, while those who say the exact same things but call it "lean" get attention. As interest in Lean grows, as the philosophy Lean espouses become better understood, the application has moved from the factory floor to cover product design, office work, distribution, and services. And new terms follow: you now hear about "lean manufacturing", "lean management", "lean enterprise", "lean supply chain", and even "Lean Six Sigma".

Wikipedia defines Just In Time as an inventory strategy implemented to improve the return on investment of a business by reducing in-process inventory and its associated costs. While Lean manufacturing is defined as a management philosophy focusing on reduction of the 7 wastes (Over-production, Waiting time, Transportation, Over-processing, Inventory, Motion and Scrap) in manufactured products. By eliminating waste, quality is improved, production time is reduced, and cost is reduced. At least in my early experience with JIT we had little awareness of being in a system and about making  culture change, we attempted to change the production process without much regard for scheduling, customer service, people. We thought all we had to do was rearrange the deck chairs. We made some progress, improved productivity certainly. But did we understand what we were doing? Later, with Lean, we learned the logic and philosophy of what we were doing. JIT seemed more like a formula and Lean more like a cultural awakening.



3 thoughts on “Is Lean more than warmed over JIT?

  1. JIT in its truest sense and as captured by Hirano is much more than a formula and its scope certainly encompasses cultural change. Unfortunately, it was/is often understood and applied in only a very narrow sense. Much of this is attributed to the truncated application as an inventory management approach in the 1980’s. If one were to look at (one of) Hirano’s JIT implementation model it progresses in 5 basic steps of: 1) awareness revolution, 2) 5s, 3) flow, 4) levelization, and 5) standard work. Other relevant components connecting to the theme/tool of visual controls include kanban, quality and TPM, while multi-process operators, set-up reduction and jidoka connect to the theme of manpower reduction…and this is just scratching the surface. In any event, I am fine calling it Lean too – the “it” just happens to be one in the same (as JIT). Perhaps the more comprehensive understanding and appreciation of “it” has finally arrived under the title of “Lean.”

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