Lessons to Learn from Lean Production

“I’m really interested in total quality. Now Toyota’s production system, for example, is lean manufacturing. They’re lean, very smart. They talk to each other all the time. But it’s lean production of technologies that we’re discovering to be dangerous. They’re degenerative from a planetary perspective. So we have lean technologies-lean tech making dirty tech. What we’re looking at for the future is clean-tech.” – William McDonough, “Eternal Optimist”

The heterogeneous set of practices and procedures that make up what is usually lumped under the term “lean production” are about much more than simply being smart about being cheap. I have had the opportunity to witness the lean philosophy at several factories and would conclude that at its best, lean production is about a learning process. The opportunities that a learning production system presents are about producing things the right way, rather than simply producing the wrong things more efficiently.

It appears that too often “lean” and “cheap” are conflated to cast a dark light on some of the best manufacturing practices in existence. Perhaps lean production can help us learn how to produce the things we all use with the least negative impact possible. The choice of what we produce falls not only on a manufacturer, but on the everyday consumer who chooses to buy an SUV or a compact, and on the governments that regulate the types of products that we all consume.

Tomasz Majek
MA Candidate
Simon Fraser University

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