The disadvantages of lean production

Updated February 21, 2017

Lean production, often called lean manufacturing, is a production management system and philosophy that focuses on quality improvement, human capital contributions and supplier chain management to create an organisation with a cultural basis for efficiency improvement. Lean production often embraces and implements Just In Time (JIT) supply chains that operate with very lean raw material inventories. Lean systems with JIT integration rely on rapid supplier response to reduce inventory overhead. Lean manufacturing, however, can have some implementation risks.

Supply-Chain Issues

To implement most lean manufacturing processes, a supply chain management component like JIT is required. Supply chain management relies on the ability of suppliers to quickly fill production orders. For example, with many lean processes, the inventory of a particular type of fastener might be reduced by 70 per cent. This reduction in inventory would require suppliers to quickly fill smaller orders as the remaining 30 per cent stock was reduced through use. One disadvantage of lean manufacturing can be that a single supplier can sometimes bring a customer's production to a halt by an inability to supply demand.

Requires Close Management

Lean manufacturing requires close management. A lean production system must be constantly monitored to find potential future problems and maintain production efficiency. This close management requires regular communication between line level employees and management. In many organisations, there is a divide between management and workers, resulting in a hesitation to share information. Close management also can run the risk of management being too active in fine-tuning employee tasks, often called "micromanagement."

Employee Pushback

In some cases, organisations may be culturally resistant to change. Employees may balk at changing how they do their jobs. In some cases, a lean production modification may cause one set of employees to have more work, while reducing the workload on another set. This can trigger resentment and employees who fight the implementation of a lean production system. In some cases, the pushback may come from management. This is especially true in organisations where managers see their organisations as separate "fiefdoms" under the larger organisation. Managers sometimes can attempt to sabotage the implementation of a system because of a fear of losing power and control of the department and groups that they head.

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About the Author

Although he grew up in Latin America, Mr. Ma is a writer based in Denver. He has been writing since 1987 and has written for NPR, AP, Boeing, Ford New Holland, Microsoft, RAHCO International, Umax Data Systems and other manufacturers in Taiwan. He studied creative writing at Mankato State University in Minnesota. He speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, English and reads Spanish.