Superficial Improvement

Several years ago, I wrote a post (worth a quick re-read) entitled, “Rosie the Robot,” wondering how technology changes that have emerged in this century will affect continuous improvement efforts.   Now, with just a week to go before our 16th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Lean Conference, I’ll add this thought regarding my 8th Lean Peeve,  what Shigeo Shingo called superficial improvement, transferring a manual waste to a machine.

Having spent thirty years in manufacturing in the last century before becoming a consultant, I had a chance to be up close and personal with these kinds of superficial improvement:

  • High-speed machines that outproduced customer need by orders of magnitude.
  • IT systems that pushed instructions to over-produce into the factory before we knew what was actually needed. (I was an IT manager for six years.)
  • Fork lifts that carried the unneeded inventory to the stockroom.
  • High-bay automatic storage and retrieval systems that efficiently stored large quantities of inventory that were not needed.

These examples actually MULTIPLIED waste rather than reducing it — in the name of local efficiency.

Superficial improvement is supported not only by conventional cost accounting but also by this simplistic equation: 

Mechanization = Process Improvement

I wonder sometimes if this equation is taught in Engineering 101, because it’s a staple for many a machine justification. 

In fact, while the intelligent use of mechanization in the 20th century absolutely extended human capability, a great deal of that mechanization also, as in the examples above,  just created waste more efficiently.   Now, as we enter the next decade of this century, the emergence of powerful new technologies, referred to collectively as IoT, the Internet of Things, promise even greater enhancement to human capability. 

But is there also a risk that even greater waste may also be an outcome?  Effective convergence of digital transformation with  Lean transformation is the theme of this year’s Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference, 21st Century Lean.  I hope you’ll be able to join us for this significant discussion. 

O.L.D.

1 thought on “Superficial Improvement

  1. Mallory Oeschger

    I think this was a great article in that over producing is so overlooked when it comes to new high tech machines doing the work. Companies will advertise new technology but not how far it sets them back.

    Reply

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