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Operations Management – Lean Synchronisation Notes

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Lean Synchronisation


Synchronisation means that the low of products and services always deliver exactly what customers want, in exact quantities, exactly when needed and exactly where required.

Lean synchronisation is to do all this at the lowest possible cost. It results in items flowing rapidly and smoothly through processes, operations and supply networks.

The Benefits of Synchronised Flow

When first introduced the lean synchronisation approach was relatively radical even for large and sophisticated companies.

Now the lean, just in time approach is being adopted outside its traditional automotive high volume and manufacturing roots.

The best way to understand how lean synchronisation differs from more traditional approaches to managing flow is to contrast the two simple processes.

The traditional approach assumes that each stage in the process will place its output in an inventory that buffers that stage from the next one downstream in the process.

The next stage down will the take outputs from the inventory, process the, and pass them through to the next buffer inventory.

These buffers are there to insulate each stage from its neighbours, making each stage relatively independent.

The larger the buffer inventory the greater the degree of insulation between the stages. This insulation has to be paid for in terms of inventory and slow throughput times because items will spend time waiting in the buffer inventories.

Synchronisation, Lean and Just In Time

Different terms are used to describe what here we call lean synchronisation. The definition - lean synchronisation aims to meet demand instantaneously with perfect quality and no waste - could also be used to describe the general concept or lean or just in time.

The concept of lean stresses the elimination of waste, while just in time emphasises the idea of producing items only when they are needed,.

But all three concepts overlap to a large degree, and no definition fully conveys the full implications for operations practice.

Lean Synchronisation and Capacity Utilisation

Lean synchronisation has many benefits but these come at the cost of capacity utilisation.

In a lean process, any stoppage will affect the whole process. This will necessarily lead to lower capacity utilisation, at least in the short term.

Unless the output is useful and causes the operation as a whole to produce saleable products, there is no point in producing it anyway.

Producing just to keep utilisation high is not only pointless but it is also counterproductive, because the extra inventory produced merely serves to make improvements less likely.

The Lean Philosophy

Lean synchronisation can be viewed as a broad philosophy of operations management, a set of useful prescriptions of how to manage day to day operations and a collection of tools and techniques for improving operations performance.

As a philosophy lean synchronisation is founded on smoothing flow through processes by doing all the simple things well on gradually doing them better and on squeezing out waster every step of the way.

Three key issues define the lean philosophy, the involvement of staff in the operation, the drive for continuous improvement and the elimination of waste.

The Involvement of Everyone

Lean philosophy is often put forward as a total system. Its aim is to provide guidelines which embrace everyone and every process in the organisation.

An organisations culture is seen as being important in supporting these objectives through an emphasis on involving all of the organisations staff.

This new culture is sometimes seen as synonymous with total quality.

The lean approach to people management has also been called the respect for humans system. It encourages team based problem solving, job enrichment, job rotation and multi skilling.

The intention is to encourage a high degree of personal responsibility, engagement and ownership of the job.

What are called basic working practices are sometimes used to implement the involvement for everyone's principle. They include:


Discipline - work standards which are critical for the safety of company members and the environment and for the quality of the product, must be followed by everyone all the time.


Flexibility - it should be possible to expand responsibilities to the extent of people's capabilities. This applies as equally to managers as it does to shop floor personnel. Barriers to flexibility, such as grading structures and restrictive practices should be removed.


Equality - unfair and divisive personal policies should be discarded. Many companies implement the egalitarian message through to company uniforms, consistent pay structures which do not differentiate between full time staff and hourly rated staff and open plan offices.


Autonomy - delegate increasing responsibility to people involved in direct activities of the business so that managements task becomes one of supporting the shop floor.


Development of personnel - over time the aim is to create more company members who can support the rigours of being competitive.


Quality of working life - this may include involvement in decision making, security of employment, enjoyment and working area facilities.


Creativity - this is one of the indispensable elements of motivation.


Total people involvement - staff take on much more responsibility to use their abilities to the benefit of the company as a whole.

Continuous Improvement

Lean objectives are often expressed as ideals such as the definition to meet demand instantaneously with perfect quality and no waste.

Whilst any operations current performance may be far removed from such ideals, a fundamental lean belief is that it is possible to get closer to them overtime.

Without such beliefs to drive progress, lean proponents claim improvement is more likely to be transitory than continuous.

This is why the concept of continuous improvement is such an important part of lean philosophy. If its aims are set in terms of ideal which individual organisations may never fully achieve, then the emphasis must be on the way in which an organisation moves closer to the ideal state.

The Japanese word for continuous improvement is kaizen and is a key part of lean philosophy.

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