What the COVID-19 Crisis has Taught Me About the Need for Lean

Written by: Jason Haines

 When things break down, what has been ignored rushes in. When things are no longer specified, with precision, the walls crumble, and chaos makes its presence known, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos

Over the past week, I have had a chance to sit down and reflect on a lot of things that I haven’t had the time to do over the past few weeks. It is funny because you would think with everything going on it would be exactly the opposite, but this time of postponements and cancellations has brought forward time to work on the things that have been neglected. Like learning more about the various systems C Tek Lean Solutions offers and how they can help a company save much-needed space in your facility with their U Shaped Work Cells.

I have heard people talking about supply chains breaking down because of the current crisis. Without our truckers, train engineers, and boat captains we would be currently struggling with absolutely nothing on any of our shelves. Albeit, we are pretty close to that with all the panic buying going on as of late. Don’t worry everyone, we will come out the other side of this crisis better than we went in, and much more prosperous.

But this all got me to thinking of a few questions. What if there was a better way for our supply chains to work? How did the Japanese do it when they developed the Toyota Production System, or what we now call affectionately Lean? Was there a special sauce to there method? Do the Japanese just work better together with each other than we do here in the United States? Why can the United States not have the same type of supply chain? Is Lean the ultimate way for companies and people to work and live?

The Just-In-Time methodology that is part of the Lean toolbox is an essential part of building relationships. Do not blame our current crisis and shortages on the Toyota Ways Just-In-Time methods. This current crisis has nothing to do with Just-In-Time and should not be the reason to take extreme measures to question Lean. As a matter of fact, we should take time to learn from this, and make our current system much more robust and much more Lean. Helping us find ways to work with local suppliers and carriers so we can get supplies quicker and at a better quality than before.

The Japanese realized the supply chain was very important to the long-term effects of implementing the Lean journey they were on. They also realized that long-term partnerships with the suppliers and carriers was also crucial to the Lean world as well. With these partnerships and carrier relationships, the Japanese have built a more robust supply chain that uses less space and carries much less inventory to keep it running.

With a robust supply chain, the Japanese could also have more frequent and smaller deliveries at specific times to their facilities. This helped by identifying errors quicker, seeing defective parts much easier, and being able to take care of problems before they arose. With this added speed in their processes, the companies could communicate much more quickly and speed up their businesses to take care of their customer’s needs.

Lean and managed supply chains will also help with the biggest aspect of Lean: Respect for People. Not only will your customers be happy, but so will suppliers, employees, and all stakeholders. Moving the supply chain closer will provide jobs, lessen hours, and get families home more often to be together. Wouldn’t all of this be better than adding on a second shift, building a new warehouse or factory, or outsourcing to another country that’s cheaper?

Lean is a journey, and we are here to help!