Greg M. writes-
What kind of article is this?
I thought Strategos was a LEAN consulting resource. I
have enjoyed your article in the past, so I was surprised when I saw this article touting
Everything I have learned about Lean Manufacturing and
Flow is contrary to this narrow minded strategy of Focused Factories.
I am often amused by people that want to "focus" on a
particular metric as a manufacturing strategy.
Customers these days want it ALL: on-time, high
quality, low cost, reliability, safety, service, etc. In my opinion, I think the author is
myopic in thinking that if a factory is narrowly focused they are more likely to excel in
1) "There are many ways to compete besides low cost."
Really? You don't say. That's brilliant!
2) "A factory cannot perform well on every measure."
What do we consider "well" and whom do we benchmark ourselves from? This statement seems to say:
'Let's focus on two measures and let the rest go to pot.' This is ludicrous! I
believe (sic) it
is also the reason that many factories are lost in a sea of misdirection today.
3) "Simplicity & repetition bring competence." I do
agree with the underlying principal that Simplicity and repetition bring competence. We as
manufacturers tend to make things entirely too complicated.
Thanks for your time,
Focused Factories & Lean Manufacturing
The Focused Factory concept is highly
compatible with, and often essential to Lean Manufacturing. The literature in the past few years
has not emphasized focused factories but the earlier literature on
Toyota, JIT and WCM does. Toyota was and is a
strong advocate and practitioner of Dr. Skinner's concept. Their factories, particularly their
supplier's factories, are highly focused.
This is not the only aspect of the Toyota
Production System that has gotten short shrift in the transformation to Lean Manufacturing. The
Toyota "Suggestion" system has had a similar fate. Norman Bodek, who met Taiichi Ohno and was a
close friend of Shigeo Shingo is attempting to correct this oversight with
"Quick & Easy Kaizen."
The focus in a Focused factory is not on a
particular metric but on a "Key Manufacturing Task." This is usually the task that, executed
well, wins orders in the marketplace. Upcoming issues of Lean Briefing will discuss this in more
Neither I nor Dr. Skinner advocate total
reliance on a single metric. First, one needs to distinguish between Process Metrics and Results
Metrics. "Results" Metrics tend to measure a final outcome. "Process" Metrics measure aspects of
the process which affect the final outcome. Process metrics measure phenomena that are often far
removed from the result. An organization must often track many metrics to produce an intended
The topic of metrics is a wide one and
there are several good books devoted to it. (See:
for World Class Manufacturing").
While the underlying concepts may seem like
simplistic truisms. the same might be said of Sun Tzu's and von Clausewitz'' Principles of War.
It is surprising how often they have been ignored by supposedly competent people. For example,
Eisenhower and Montgomery pretty much ignored von Clausewitz' principle of concentration during
the WWII European campaign. It cost thousands of Allied lives and drove Patton to apoplexy. It
also opened the door for the German Ardennes offensive. According to Stephen Ambrose, it
prolonged the war by nine months.
Customers & Markets
Customers may say they want it all but they
seldom get it. We must often infer market criteria from customer behavior rather than
assertions. For example, examine your own buying behavior with respect to an automobile. Do you
own a car with the gadgetry of a Cadillac, the quality of a Toyota, the styling of a Jaguar, the
prestige of a Mercedes and the price of a Kia? At some point, you made a buying decision that
favored one or two factors over others. This is all part of marketing strategy planning from
1. Identify Target Markets
2. Develop A Marketing Mix
This is why Manufacturing strategy is
intimately intertwined with Marketing strategy. The idea of the Focused Factory is to find a set
of target markets with similar requirements and design a manufacturing system that addresses
common needs with common approaches and systems. Simple but not easy.
Misdirection & Multiple, Competing Goals
Neither individuals nor organizations are
very good at achieving many goals simultaneously, especially when the goals compete. What
happens in practice is that one week they work on cost, the next week quality, next delivery and
then back to cost for a few days before going on to inventory. Without a sustained, concentrated
effort on just one or two goals, not much gets done. Check out "The
Great Nuclear Fizzle" for an example of what happens when objectives are ill-defined.
The paradox is that by focusing on one or
two common "Order-Winning" criteria (for example, delivery reliability) cost, quality and other
metrics improve as well.
Too many competing objectives is also a
common reason for the failure of many Lean Manufacturing initiatives-- the company tries to do
too many things simultaneously. Setup Reduction competes with SPC and before either one is
digested, cellular manufacturing comes along and tears everything up. Before the cells get
started, meetings start on kanban and teamwork. People are torn between competing projects and
make progress on none. A critical part of any Lean Manufacturing strategy is the priority and
timing of each element.
This business of "collateral competency" is
also a source of confusion when discussing tradeoffs. Tradeoffs are inherent to any engineering
design. In some systems, the tradeoff curve is very sharp with steep slopes and a clear optimum.
This is much like the EOQ curve when setup cost is high.
If the system can be redesigned, the
tradeoff curve may change drastically in character with gentler slopes and a lower overall
location. This is what happens when we implement setup reduction. The tradeoff still exists but
it is less critical and the overall improvement makes the tradeoff less critical.
Finally, focus by itself does not guarantee
business success. One might, for example, focus on the wrong thing or an unsustainable market
segment. Again, the manufacturing strategy must integrate with marketing and business