The approach that is taken to Lean Operations this week is that it is a philosophy of management that will influence how operations take place across the organisation. It will influence the way that work is organised and the way that people are managed.This posting discusses lean as a philosophy and the involvement of people in lean operations. It explains how a pull system works and the key concepts in the Toyota Production System. It examines the attributes of a lean supply chain and the principles of supply chain design. We will also look at the application of lean operations concepts in a service operations context.
Operations management in most industrialised countries has been predominantly based on the principles of scientific management that were first applied on a large scale by Henry Ford and Frederick
Taylor in the early 1900s.
Taylor emphasised the division of the planning and execution of work. A small number of more highly paid workers would undertake planning and specialist tasks while the majority of workers would undertake simple repetitive tasks that were easy to learn. Management would ensure that people worked hard and measurement and norms would establish the standards that had to be achieved in the work pace and output.
“The general expectation of the scientific management approach was that by simplifying jobs, work could be carried out more efficiently; less skilled employees would be required; the control of the management over production would be increased; and, ultimately, organisational profits would be increased.” Hackman and Lawler, 1971
The International Labour Organisation commented on this approach in 1979:
“Under this system the operative is regarded as a person of a very low intellectual and educational level, a waster with an innate tendency towards low output, needing regular pacing to overcome habitual apathy, and requiring close supervision, but capable of positive motivation through payment by results.”
The Human Relations School
By the 1950s this approach had started to be criticised. The Human Relations School argued that jobs should be designed to improve employee motivation, satisfaction and performance. They argued that scientific management leads to dissatisfaction and lower levels of performance. Douglas McGregors
Theory X and Theory Y description of managerial types was part of the Human Relations School. His theory X type was aligned with the scientific management model:
Another school of thought also emerged in the 1950s, Socio-technical Systems. They argued that the human relations theory was too narrow and that it assumed the nature of production technology determined employees’ job content. The socio-technical school argues that work is a combination of
social and technical systems and that our aim should be to optimise these together – that manufacturing design should take into account both systems.
The socio-technical systems approach has been used in the design of many manufacturing operations.
General Motors’ Saturn manufacturing plant and Volvo’s facilities at Uddevalla and Kalmar are popularly reported examples.
Socio-technical systems theory was developed in the 1950s, when the dominant view of operations management was based on scientific management. Today our views of operations are also influenced by theories arising from lean operations that incorporate many of the elements of socio-technical systems.
Toyota have been credited with being the initiators of lean operations and their continuing success with its application has now made them the largest automotive producer in the world. The following video provides an overview of the operation of their Canadian facility:
In 1987 Voss provided a definition of lean manufacturing which remains appropriate today:
“a disciplined approach to improving overall productivity and