Lean operations in real life – MBA Learnings

In the past week, we’ve been deconstructing the idea of “Lean operations” in our Operations Management classes. Lean, for the uninitiated, is a way of operations pioneered by Toyota’s legendary founder Taiichi Ono. It was simply called the “Toyota Production System” till academics from the west re-branded it as “lean.”

Lean embraces the idea of “kaizen” or continuous improvement. The process behind Lean improvement is illustrated by the image below –

Photo credit – Handsongroup.com

The concept illustrated here is that having large amounts of inventory can hide the issues in the system. The best way to understand and fix problems is to gradually lower the inventory level. As soon as we do that, we start bringing problems to light and can begin the process of continuous improvement. It is critical that we don’t bring the water down all at once as it is impossible to fix everything together. In fact, yesterday’s solution is, very often, today’s problem. So, it has to be one at a time and it has to be continuous.

The beauty about learning Operations Management is that every learning has a direct application in our daily lives. There was an interesting article on 99U.com titled “Don’t work harder, work faster” – inspired by social media consultant, author, investor and speaker Gary Vaynerchuk. This is Gary talking about the idea of working faster –

“I always tell people to start working harder, to hustle. I truly believe that people could watch an hour less of Scandal and instead do some f****** work. But there’s another variable that I don’t talk about enough: be much faster in the hours you’re already in. Train yourself to do a little bit more in each hour than you normally would. Every day add something, and get it all done. The first few days you may not get it all done, but keep adding on, and you’ll get there. It’s training for a marathon. It takes time, but once you’re done, you’ll see that you’re doing much more in a day because you’re moving faster.”

That’s lean operations in action. Even though I am nowhere close to as prolific as Gary, that’s been my experience with thinking about a learning every day too. Over these years, it’s been a gradual process of thinking about ideas like productivity and making small tweaks that have all added up over time. I feel myself getting through larger volumes of work than I ever thought possible a few years back and, yet, seem to be able to make time for sleep, food, exercise, read and even meditate for 15 minutes. This was in complete contrast to my life just three years ago – I’d barely manage 7 hours of rest, exercise half the amount I do now and never find time/space to meditate.

Small improvements over a long period of time add up. That’s what makes Lean and the idea of “kaizen” really powerful. It isn’t a one shot “to do” list item though. It is like taking a bath – you need to take one every day.

Lean is a way of life.