Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

Seeing both images

Industrial engineers literally have process improvement down to a science. Their technical tools drill down to work at the granular level, ferreting out and removing waste and inefficiency.

But despite a proven track record, numerous organizations march on minus continuous process improvement and lean methodologies. Some start down the lean path and see tremendous initial results, abandoning the philosophy when later projects yield lesser benefits. Others just don't believe the hype.

Aaron J. Armstrong and Gregory W. Diehl want to change this. The authors of this month's cover story, "Lean Needs Both Pictures," note that the small picture – detailed projects that reduce setup time and improve run time and capacity – does not always translate to the bottom line of a company's financial statements.

That's where big picture lean comes in. Upper management cares about ensuring an enterprise's sustainability. And remember, before it was a hip and trendy word, sustainable meant an enterprise that could last a long time. If the C-suite cannot see how the details affect the big picture, upper management might as well be blind.

Armstrong and Diehl use a law formulated decades ago by MIT's John Little – WIP equals throughput multiplied by the overall manufacturing critical-path time – to tie the strategy inherent in big picture lean to the tactical details of small picture lean. How pieces, lots, resources and randomness interact affect how fast your organization can get deliverables out the door in response to various levels of demand.

Analysts can show their managers what happens if more staff is hired, a new piece of equipment is bought or overtime increased. Management decides where they want that sales order vs. order response time curve, and that helps analysts determine what improvement projects to pursue.

It all makes for an elegant solution to get the C-suite's attention – and, more critically, upper management support for lean.

So click here and see what you think. After all, companies that show how they can cut costs and reduce lead-time can win in the marketplace.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IIE. Reach him at mhughes@iienet.org or (770) 349-1110.