lean advocates believe that software is not required to do lean.
In their view ALL software is just “type 2 muda” (unnecessary
don’t have to think very deeply to know that “all software is ‘type 2
muda’” is clearly overstatement for effect.
Does anyone really think that accounting and financial reporting software
is unnecessary waste? Certainly not
in an age where Sarbanes and Oxley run the show for most public companies!
what about traditional resource planning software – say order processing,
order promising, or sales and operations planning (S&OP)?
Is it unnecessary waste? While
you might make a case that it would be desirable to run a complex supply chain
without any software, it just isn’t practical.
Computers and software are indispensible for receiving, processing, and
promising customer orders. And
having software to anticipate, in advance, the need for additional capacity –
either in people or equipment – is a key element of the S&OP business
process that most larger companies will likely have in place as part of their
basic business management system. Basic
systems for managing demand and capacity are a necessity for companies of any
what about software to support lean manufacturing activities?
Could this really be wasteful and completely unnecessary?
Let’s see how true this might be.
most passionate advocates of lean manufacturing and the Toyota
visual controls and visual control board
s to be the
essence of the approach. Instead of
extensive computerization, reports, paperwork and electronic transactions, lean
manufacturers use visual controls (like kanban, andon lights, FIFO
operating limit indicators) and visual control boards (heijunka boxes, load
assembly boards, kanban boards) as real-time communication devices.
visual control board
manufacturers have put system monitoring and control firmly in the hands of the
people who are responsible for production and procurement processes rather than
delegating it to a separate administrative function like production control or
planning. In addition the use of
visual controls and visual control boards typically helps in driving simplified
processes, as well as near real-time problem identification (and sometimes
is just as it should be: simple techniques enabling people “on the firing
line” to make real time decisions and execute schedules without excessive
computerization or complexity.
Planning Required for Using the Visual Controls
often what’s happening “behind the curtain” prior to getting to the daily
execution system is also important, and in most cases the calculations and
preparation required to get to visual controls actually involve some degree of
computerization. In talking to
leading lean practitioners, I found – over and over and over again – that to
implement the concepts of lean, software was being used for:
the proper production interval (EPEI)
an appropriate lot size for situations where one-piece, produce-to-demand
kind of flow isn’t possible
the proper amount of inventory in a kanban loop
supplier requirements in anticipation of the visual signal to replenish
many cases the software was built using MS Excel or some equivalent, and was
poorly integrated with the basic enterprise systems and data used to manage
order processing, order promising, S&OP, etc.
The software itself wasn’t wasteful– but rather the human effort
needed to load it with data and get updates back into the enterprise systems
once it had been used was waste.
not a proponent of automating functions that should be eliminated (for example,
detailed manufacturing operational reporting or generating individual purchase
orders or order authorization when a pull signal will do).
But a lot of what I found in researching my latest book, the Lean
Standard System, is that software is integral to the success of companies
using a Lean approach. If properly designed and integrated with the core
enterprise functionality needed to handle billing and collection, regulatory
reporting and accounting standards, and fundamental resource planning functions,
it can be enormously helpful in assisting in the lean transformation and in lean
may be most shocking to those who think all software is unnecessary:
uses software to support the core concepts of the Toyota Production System (TPS).
Yasuhiro Monden’s classic study Toyota
Production System for details on Toyota’s systems including their
technology database subsystem, material planning subsystem, kanban master
planning subsystem, slip issuing subsystem, actual performance collection
subsystem, order entry system, master scheduling, etc. (chapters 5 and 19).
also clear from even a cursory reading that Toyota’s processes for sequencing
their mixed model assembly lines (the goal chasing method as well as the new
sequence scheduling logic – chapters 16 and 17) is not being done manually.
Not to mention the “assembly line control system” which relies on
extensive computerization (chapter 6).
the plain truth is that
uses software where it makes sense. And
where they can avoid using it – especially in the essential visual control
aspects of TPS – they avoid it.
Book That Shows You Why, And How
Lean Standard System is the product of
my seven years of research on this subject, including contacts with some of
’s best lean thinkers. It is the
most in-depth description anywhere of the core calculations and algorithms that
make up the basic lean toolbox for flow and pull – takt time, pitch, EPE
interval, mixed model scheduling, kanban loop sizing for both fixed
quantity/variable interval and variable quantity/fixed interval methods, lean
lot sizing based on fixed quantities and fixed run time approaches, signal
kanban alternatives including triangle kanbans, lot making (quantity
accumulator) and pattern production, and material route design.
is also one of the few sources that describe integrating make-to-order products
into a lean environment, the use of the “joker” kanban, how FIFO lanes and
FIFO processes are handled in sizing and kanban tracking, and the various visual
control board alternatives (heijunka box, load assembly board, kanban control
the Lean Standard System, I describe
how the following activities contribute to lean manufacturing. Many of these
functions cannot easily be accomplished without some degree of software or
automation (Specific lean functions mentioned in the book are in bold):
and operations planning
takt time - synchronizing
with the marketplace via the takt time calculation, scheduling at only one
point in the value stream
and operator balancing
- converting production volume and mix
small consistent increments of work at the pacemaker
the finishing schedule via the heijunka
control production where continuous flow
not extend upstream including capabilities for
and loop sizing
determine inventory limits
“lean lot sizes” using the EPEI
printing and card management
to support the flow
planning and supplier scheduling
control boards and tracking –
communicating status to distant suppliers.
dealing with some of
’s finest lean practitioners my conclusion is that while software is never a
prerequisite to lean, it can be enormously helpful.
In a very simple environment, with few products and little component
variety, already close to one-piece flow, with suppliers who are geographically
close and customers who have stable demand patterns – no software may be
needed at all.
in a more complex situation where there are lots of different products and
unique components, a far flung supply chain, manufacturing processes that still
include too many “monuments” to past equipment purchasing practices,
customers who exhibit unstable order patterns, etc., having some simple software
to assist in setting up lean execution systems may be the difference between
success and failure. It really can help with
leveling (and re-leveling) of demand – one of the prerequisites to lean
the production interval and lot sizes for existing batch processes
sizing kanban loops and supermarket inventory levels
manufacturing cells and operator balancing
material routes inside the four walls of the plant
“visual control boards” viewable by distant suppliers
turn to the next page in your lean transformation without knowing whether and
how software might help. My latest
book will show you how:
Chris Gray is the president of Gray Research and
can be reached at cgr...@grayresearch.com
. Over the last twenty years, he's
helped more companies sort out manufacturing and distribution software issues
than any other individual in the field and has authored three books on this
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