Lean management (LM) concept originated in the Toyota Production System. The goal of Toyota was to reduce the cost of doing business while eliminating waste. On this basis, lean management is also an “accurate management“, which refers to a long-term approach to work that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes to improve efficiency and quality. Lean management in China faces unique, but solvable challenges.
Source: Toyota Global, Toyota plant
Embracing lean management in China allows businesses to increase competitiveness. With the continuous improvement of the global industrial chain, manufacturers need to improve their competitiveness.
Secondly, Chinese firms are faced with deteriorated management efficiency as they are breaking away from former state‐controlled mass production. They demand flexibility of manufacturing and advanced manufacturing research, which is the goal of lean management.
Thirdly, systemic overcapacity in nearly all sectors in China – from aluminum foundries to fabric mills drives fierce competition on price. A 3% price move can be the difference between life and death for many factories. Lean management in China can prevent the problem of overproduction and paying a higher carrying costs.
Management on all levels should provide complete support for lean production, and sustain the program. High level managers and mid-level managers need to embrace lean management practices on order to set good examples for employees.
Continuous improvement is the key of lean management, which completely depends on the passionate involvement of all employees. They should conduct “continuous improvement” events, document results in one-point lessons and complete daily check to engage in lean production.
Thinking lean means only doing things that create or add value. It is important to focus on what the customer is willing to pay for, to determine what activities are wasteful. Moreover, when deploying lean production, companies should break traditional concepts and combine it with the culture in China.
The success of LM in Japan is closely related to the long-term employment system. The situation in China is on the contrary. Chinese enterprises have broken the lifelong secure job since the reform and opening-up at the beginning of 1980s. The HR departments of Chinese enterprises are often more engaged in assessing, punishing and firing employees and pay less attention to staff training.
The practice of Toyota is to train employees before manufacturing vehicles. They provide lots of On the Job Training including basic operation skills and multi-skills. Even more importantly, they train their staff to diagnose and solve problems, which is the basis for continuous improvement.
It is impossible to accomplish lean production in one action. Many Chinese enterprises ignore the concept or just take some lean management steps to show to demonstrate their leadership abilities.
For example, many enterprises have gotten Quality Certificate, but it can’t guarantee the quality of their products. As a result, they spent costs without quality improvement. During deploying lean management, all staff, including the management and ordinary employees must prepare for a long-term battle since lean is an endless course.
First Automotive Works (FAW), the prototype of the Ford production system in China, began to introduce lean management to China in late 1980s. The FAW Transmission Plant, which introduced Just-in-Time (JIT) method, is viewed as one of the best plants in China. In a result, the Chassis Branch of FAW reduced its work-in-process by 70% by deploying LM.
Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), which is one of the most successful holding companies in the Chinese automobile industry, is another typical case for adopting lean management in China. In order to reach the quality regulation, SAIC first established unique system ‘Special Production Zone’ within its subordinated factories. From 1994, SAIC selected Shanghai Automobile Gear Works and other 4 factories as a breakthrough to practice ‘Team Work Method’, ‘Just-In-Time Production’, ‘JIT Delivery System of Components’ and ‘Systematic Supply’. SAIC’s introduction and promotion of lean management resulted in the mutual function of inner and outer elements with the privilege of capacity improvement.
Source: Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation was one of the first Chinese companies to implement lean management
The implementation of lean management in China includes not only changes in company’s technical system, but also changes in thinking. It includes the creation of an “improvement plan” and conducting events and workshops to train employees on the principles of lean management.
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