Our initial results showed positive response from a majority of companies that we surveyed. However, a subsequent follow-up study of the inner working of these companies presented different scenarios and therefore helped us to understand the real problems facing these companies. Our in-depth research shows that among Indian automotive companies, there has been a remarkable amount of interest to understand the inner working of lean manufacturing. These Indian automobile companies are motivated hard to imitate lean manufacturing system, however, with little success. Most companies that we studied in India are striving to learn lean practices and the ability to deliver lean practices on a sustainable basis require them to look within and renew the fabric of the organization itself. Based on our study, we put forth the following guidelines for Indian managers: establish a clear sense of direction for lean manufacturing, open communication and continuing education, reduce bureaucracy, and instill a sense of ownership and tolerance for risk and failure. Sustained practices come from developing a collective sense of purpose, from unleashing the creativity of people throughout organization and from teaching them how to recognize unconventional opportunities. As lean practice takes its roots, a clear sense of mission empowers frontline employees to act on new ideas that further the company’s purpose. Lean practices require optimism. It is about an attitude of continually striving for higher performance. Their initial efforts show reasonable improvement in the organization’s performance. However, they have not been able to maintain similar performance consistently and achieve further improvement. Many companies in India seem to be looking for an improvement process, a step-by-step method that, if properly executed, improves organizational performance manifold. The lean principles are not steps, prescriptions, or recipes. Rather, these principles are building blocks and essential elements of any system, which need to be seamlessly integrated into the whole system and culture of the organization. The lean principles identified by various researchers, if understood and implemented with commitment along with other tools and techniques, will enable any company to improve its performance.
Further, our study indicates the keen interest on the part of Indian manufacturing companies to adapt or learn new approaches and techniques in order to improve their performance; but it is only the beginning of the journey. It is important to emphasize here that efforts to implement any one lean principle alone would accomplish little, but every principle has its own role and at the same time reinforces others. Many automotive companies in India have attempted to implement a few of these lean principles independently without much success. Our study discovers that most of the organizations have been very successful in implementing techniques like JIT, Kanban, production leveling, team building, quality circle and others. But it did not bring them the kind of success they have been striving for.
On the other hand, lean manufacturing has been very successful in continuously improving its performance because of coherence in implementing principles with models, tools and techniques. The ingrained responses of many managers and engineers, derived from their education and their cultural roots, work against the foundations of lean approach. For example, Indian automotive companies approach team empowerment by allowing team considerable autonomy. However, this empowerment introduces remarkable amount of variations in output and hinders the possibility of finding real causes or any deficiencies existing in the process for further improvement. Managers and supervisors need to play the role of facilitators (teachers and coaches), get involved in problem-solving projects and work along with subordinates to enhance the learning of whole team rather than demonstrating their authority. Managers and supervisors need to demonstrate exemplary technical expertise and fluency in synthesizing technical knowledge into innovative solutions to command respect from subordinates and also to get promotions.
However, a majority of the companies do not have such stringent technical competency requirements to get promoted. Most companies seriously need to curtail the tendency of making changes for the sake of changing the existing procedures. To make changes, people should present the explicit logic of the hypothesis, fully explore all improvement opportunities and conduct logical experiments to test the hypothesis and expectations. Companies seriously need to rein in this tendency and inculcate the scientific methods at all levels of the workforce by involving managers and supervisors in problem-solving projects. The prevailing tendency in most organizations is to attempt to resolve the problem by addressing a specific issue, treating it as a final solution and moving on to next one. That tentative solution becomes a permanent remedy to the problem and nobody looks back at it unless it props up again in a different manner. This attitude does not support the continuous improvement principle.
Finally, we believe that in order to excel in world market, any organization needs to transform itself into a learning organization. The answer is in the professional practice, which requires pragmatic acculturation and corporate discipline by making people capable of and responsible for learning by doing and improving their own work, by standardizing connections between individual customers and suppliers, by pushing the resolution of connection and flow of problems to the lowest possible level, striving for a ideal goal and cultivating organizational knowledge.
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