Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Backstory: The last 10 years of Lean

October 18, 2018
By Bruce Hamilton

October 18, 2018 – Ten years ago, as the global recession waned, I observed the emergence of two major Lean trends – one that saw it deployed in a wider range of industries and disciplines, and another that has carried Lean thinking to the corner office.

Breadth of acceptance
In the last decade, the basic ideals of flow and pull and the philosophy of employee engagement have expanded well beyond manufacturing, outward to healthcare, service and government. These industries have grown to understand the opportunity to reduce stagnation of flow, be it parts, patients or information.

For example, in healthcare, the early objections that “Patients are not widgets” have been replaced with discussions of “single-patient flow” and “patient-centered care.” Service companies such as banks and insurers that once said, “We don’t make anything” have come to recognize improved information flow as the key to competitiveness. Similarly, within each industry, Lean deployment has extended laterally beyond the front line to engineering and administration, creating gains in some cases greater than from front-line improvement.

Focus on Lean management systems
The last decade of Lean evolution has directed our attention to Lean culture and management systems. Speaking in 2007 at the Lean Enterprise Institute, Jim Womack declared, “The age of Lean tools is dead.” This was the era of Lean management. David Mann’s book Creating a Lean Culture provided a breakthrough for executive leadership and organizational alignment. Defining leader-standard work as a new way to lead in a Lean environment, Mann offered a practical approach to goal setting, execution and accountability that has since been widely embraced. Then, in 2008, the Shingo Institute presented a new model for enterprise excellence based expressly upon core principles and behaviours of leaders, managers and workers. The realization that management engagement is essential to all Lean engagement has been, in my opinion, the most significant development in Lean transformation in memory.

Both trends – one horizontal and one vertical – are still early in development. The jury is still out on their long-term impacts, but both show promise.


Bruce Hamilton is the president of GBMP, director emeritus for the Shingo Institute and a sought-after speaker concerning management’s role in lean transformation.

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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