Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lean-Absolute or relative?

Today I met an interesting person-weighing about 125 kgs with fat in all wrong places. Since he was sitting next to me in the plane (imagine my plight!) to India and was obviously not able to limit his presence to within his seat boundaries he started to be friendly(my perception!) with me. After talking some general subjects (Nuclear deal-India should sign or not, Afghanistan, Iraq etc) I asked him what was his profession. He casually replied “Teaching Companies to be Lean”. Seeing my snide smile (some people tell that I always have this smile!) he asked me “Why shouldn’t I teach Lean?” Trying to be polite I said “Why not? Lean is a matter of attitude”. He told “Not at all…Lean is a matter Necessity. RFID is a lean way for Developed Countries but does not make sense to Developing countries warehouse operations for example. So are we saying if Developing countries don’t look at RFID solutions, they have an attitude problem?” I realized this was tricky but to continue the discussions I told him “Maybe you should look at process steps than technology for defining Lean. Then the difference between Economies will disappear.” He smiled. “You are right and wrong. Underlying process defines how lean we can stretch but enablers make it possible to stretch. Enablers are linked to economics. That is why Lean should always be governed/defined by Necessity”.
“How much do you weigh?” if I may know , he casually continued. “72 kgs” I replied in instinct.
He started to now talk like a Doctor “I still think you are in the top 20% weight band for Indian population which makes your BMI in border zone. Maybe you are prone to BP, Cholesterol and other health issues before the age of 50 which means it is better you loose about 10% weight.” I was quiet. He smiled and said…Don’t take it seriously. I am also in the same band as you are in my country and have the same recommendation from my doctor. So even with a difference of 50 kgs we have the same problem though by look you are very lean than me. Therefore Lean is not an absolute index like a lot think. It is relative and necessity drives it. A more mature business with a strong brand may not have the same pressure as a small business which is just trying to establish itself. If you are not in Best cost country we talk about Best Cost country sourcing/manufacturing. For companies already there the challenges are different. Both need to remove 10% waste for example but the benchmarks fcan never be same”.
Practically he made sense. Maybe absolute benchmarks are not the right way! I started to wonder. As the dinner was served he started to eat his high fat diet and I started to eat my green salads while both were thinking how to reduce 10% weight. Time to sleep!

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Gothenburg, Sweden
Still finding introspecting to find who am I? Waiting for a Guru!