Lean and I go way back and I consider us more like friends than acquaintances. How well do we know each other? In the early 1990s, Management Roundtable conducted a series of events called the “Manufacturing Leadership Summit.” We would gather top executives from numerous industries, mostly automotive and aerospace, who would come together as delegates in a congress of sorts to network and learn about how to make more money “making stuff” with tools such as target costing, MRPII, and yes, the Toyota Production System. The summits were limited to about 150 executives and were held in the amphitheater lecture hall at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Jim Womack, co-author of The Machine that Changed the World and Lean Thinking, was one of our most highly rated keynote speakers, and it was not long until the event morphed into the Lean Manufacturing Summit with Womack as the Chairman. This was right around the time that Lean Thinking was freshly published. Jim would bring in many of the executives featured in the book to give first hand accounts of their lean journeys and we would also get bussed to local shop floors, like Freudenberg-NOK where we’d see their GROWTTH (Get Rid of Waste Through Team Harmony) program in action. It was a new and exciting time when the Toyota Production System was really starting to take off after years of American manufacturing apathy. You can see today the many fruits of these early efforts to promote lean production.
Womack subsequently created his Lean Enterprise Institute to help spread lean knowledge through training and publications, and this organization currently sponsors his conferences and events. Management Roundtable at the time was already moving away from manufacturing and diving deeper into the product development area, which was more in tune with our roots servicing the CAD industry user base.
But our exposure to lean thinking was complete–we clearly saw the applicability of lean to the product development space and have been working to promote lean methods in NPD ever since, even when nobody was listening and people knew even less than they do now.
For several years now, MRT has been offering our workshop with Don Reinertsen, currently entitled “Second Generation Lean Product Development: Applying the Principles of Flow.” Many people and organizations have been wrangling with the subject and there are many divergent flavors of Lean out there, so it’s a subject with some confusion in the marketplace. From our experiences, our worskhop with Don Reinertsen represents some of the most rigorous and practical lean approaches specifically for engineering and R&D environments.
We’ll discuss this subject more in future blog posts and examine what Lean really means when taken from the shop floor to the R&D office.