Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Lean thinking is still more than software

Enrico Camerinelli of Meta Group contacted me recently about my post earlier this month on lean manufacturing. It seems that Enrico, a research analyst at Meta, has been writing along the same lines. In a Meta Group research note he writes:
Companies have rightfully become increasingly skeptical of the "next great technology," and nowhere is this more obvious than in manufacturing, where cost containment and control remain at center stage. Lean manufacturing software is now being hyped by enterprise software vendors as the salvation for all manufacturing problems. However, companies must blend technology with best practices and training programs, while realistically evaluating organizational change, before claiming true implementation of lean manufacturing.
Enrico also points out that while US manufacturers were focusing on technology (MRP and MRP II in the 1970's, followed by ERP in the 80's and 90's), Japanese manufacturers such as Toyota were implementing lean manufacturing concepts with virtually no support from information technology. Today it is generally accepted that the Japanese attained superior performance with their low-tech approach. Today, many lean practitioners remain skeptical of the need to implement information technology as part of a lean initiative.

Nevertheless, Enrico highlights several elements of lean manufacturing that can be enriched by software, such as simulation software (e.g. Tecnomatix) to assist in setup reduction, computerized maintenance management systems (e.g. Indus, MRO Software) to support total productive maintenance, and supplier performance evaluation systems (e.g. SAP, Oracle, QAD) to support quality at the source. Software can play an important role in implementing lean manufacturing, but it is a supporting role. As Enrico points out,
The adoption of lean manufacturing software applications must take place in conjunction with the use of practices that actually enable lean concepts....Clearly, software alone cannot address all the requirements of implementing a thorough lean manufacturing strategy. Companies must focus on best practices and training programs as well as the organizational and infrastructural changes needed to support lean business processes.
I'm interested in continuing this discussion. Has your company had success with implementing lean? How much of a role did software play in the lean initiative?

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