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Management article
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Reference no. R1110G
Published by: Harvard Business Publishing
Published in: "Harvard Business Review", 2011

Abstract

Many manufacturing companies and some service firms have reaped considerable benefits by applying variations of the Toyota Production System, a method for making operations ‘lean’ through relentless efforts to increase quality and efficiency and eliminate waste. But conventional wisdom holds that lean principles don't lend themselves to knowledge work, which involves judgment and expertise, not the sorts of repetitive, easily specified tasks found on an assembly line. The authors' research, including multiyear studies of some 1,800 projects at the Indian IT services giant Wipro, challenges this thinking. Knowledge work can be made lean, Staats and Upton argue, if managers draw on six principles: 1) Continuously root out all waste; 2) Strive to make tacit knowledge explicit; 3) Specify how workers should communicate; 4) Use the scientific method to solve problems quickly; 5) Recognize that a lean system will always be a work in progress; and 6) Have leaders blaze the trail. Applying these principles demands sustained investment and a grassroots reinvention of how work is performed. But the benefits are considerable: ever-increasing productivity and job satisfaction, and a system that will be hard for competitors to replicate.

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Abstract

Many manufacturing companies and some service firms have reaped considerable benefits by applying variations of the Toyota Production System, a method for making operations ‘lean’ through relentless efforts to increase quality and efficiency and eliminate waste. But conventional wisdom holds that lean principles don't lend themselves to knowledge work, which involves judgment and expertise, not the sorts of repetitive, easily specified tasks found on an assembly line. The authors' research, including multiyear studies of some 1,800 projects at the Indian IT services giant Wipro, challenges this thinking. Knowledge work can be made lean, Staats and Upton argue, if managers draw on six principles: 1) Continuously root out all waste; 2) Strive to make tacit knowledge explicit; 3) Specify how workers should communicate; 4) Use the scientific method to solve problems quickly; 5) Recognize that a lean system will always be a work in progress; and 6) Have leaders blaze the trail. Applying these principles demands sustained investment and a grassroots reinvention of how work is performed. But the benefits are considerable: ever-increasing productivity and job satisfaction, and a system that will be hard for competitors to replicate.

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