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Lean ?.0 – or what’s next in a vital Pennsylvania industry

This headline is not a typo.

The phrase Lean ?.0 is an opportunity to apply a bit of the “plan-do-study-act” methodology to lean itself.

It has been more than 20 years since lean manufacturing was popularized, so it is appropriate to study lean by asking questions about the process itself.

< What is the status of lean in the manufacturing and distribution industries?

< How is lean performing? Has it run its course? Have we achieved everything we can with lean?

< Where is lean going?

< Is there a more cutting edge and powerful iteration of Deming, the Toyota Production System or Six Sigma on the horizon?

< Is there something new that can help Pennsylvania industries deliver better service, improve quality and generate higher profits as tools for growth?

Feedback received from local manufacturers sheds light on these questions.

A recent session with a group of 50 business leaders and key employees started by asking for a show of hands from those who have been applying lean for at least 10 years. This seemed to be a slam dunk question, so it was a bit shocking when only a few hands went up.

Asking the question again caused a few more hands to rise, but the response was still under 20 percent.

That couldn’t be right, could it? It’s been 20 years. Surely, more companies were using lean.


The small and medium-sized regional manufacturers in the audience ranked between $5 million to $100 million in sales and employed 40 to 400 local workers.

These types of companies are the backbone of the manufacturing industry and a key economic driver for Pennsylvania.

According to state data, manufacturers employ more than 500,000 Pennsylvanians, pay their employees 15 percent more than other industries and account for more than $70 billion of the gross state product.

It is critically important for our state’s economy that companies such as these not only succeed but also continually expand, which underscores lean’s important role as a lever for growth.


The results of the anecdote are not surprising when taken in context with national data.

A recent national survey of 183 companies found that 80 percent were not achieving the expected value from lean.

Have companies been scared off by bad initial experiences or the word of other failed efforts?

Lean is not perfect, nor is it always perfectly executed, but there can be no dispute around its effectiveness. Many companies have achieved wildly successful results through lean.


Applying lean to significantly improve outcomes is challenging and time consuming, just as most worthwhile endeavors are.

Companies that succeed with lean overcome initial missteps. They figure out how to start small, focus on goals and remain committed to the methodology over time.

Manufacturers need to realize that no matter where they are with lean, it is not too late to get started or revisit the process. The industry’s impact on our regional economic competitiveness is simply too significant for manufacturers not to seize the many opportunities presented by lean.


Robert E. Pozesky is a manager in the business consulting services group of RKL LLP in Wyomissing. Specializing in operational consulting, he has extensive experience working with clients to execute Six Sigma, lean and organizational development strategies to support growth and performance improvement. He can be reached at

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