Once the domain of manufacturing, lean has migrated far beyond the shop floor, transforming service organizations and innovation efforts. The principles of waste elimination, worker involvement and continuous improvement haven’t changed, though, and the results are still impressive. In this special report, experts from Wharton and The Boston Consulting Group look at how lean is transforming health care, R&D and finance.
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Toyota’s legendary lean production system emerged after World War II and transformed the auto industry. Since then, lean principles have moved into every area of an organization and every industry. One Wharton professor remembers trying to talk with hospitals about lean initiatives several years ago. "They thought I was evil. They said, ‘We’re doctors. We help people. We are not Toyota!’ Now these same institutions have chief medical officers saying, ‘We want to run this place like Toyota!’"
Could lean processes transform the U.S. health care system, with its spiraling costs and inconsistent quality? The industry’s growing problems are creating a sense of urgency and a strong mandate for change. Lean’s focus on cutting costs, increasing efficiency, streamlining processes, and improving patient outcomes may be just the prescription for this ailing sector.
The financial services sector has been slow to adopt lean tools and practices, but that’s changing. As more banks discover the benefits of lean operations — such as lower costs, fewer errors, faster cycle times and far greater efficiency — wide-scale adoption by the industry is just a matter of time.
Does lean’s structure and discipline snuff out the creative spark that underlies the birth and development of great ideas? In fact, lean brings structure and predictability to innovation, and sharpens the distinction between idea generation and the development process. If a company as innovation-driven as Pixar can apply lean principles to innovation, then others can, too.