With the 2014 Lean Accounting Summit and my own Value Stream Management Conference coming up next month, I am more and more bombarded with questions about managing by Value Streams – a hot topic at both events. Well, here ya go:

As lean thinkers work to eliminate waste – anything and everything in the chain of activities that does not create value for customers – it would be easier if the folks doing that unnecessary work would recognize that their efforts are no longer required and “go gentle into that good night”.   That is often not the case, however, and in Florida they are coming right out and growling about it.

Pretty much what I do these days is help companies transition from old fashioned functional silo organizations to Value Stream structures – cross functional teams aimed directly at strategic objectives. It’s not for everyone. Typically companies have to spend a few years or more fumbling around trying to use lean tools to increase labor efficiency before it dawns on them that using lean tools as an extension of their non-lean management structures and processes doesn’t accomplish much. When they reach the point of understanding that the problem in the past hasn’t been lazy production folks nearly so much as it has been ineffective management, the exciting part of the lean transformation begins.

So Amazon is pouring money into more distribution centers, and building mini-DC’s it calls “sortation centers’. The folks at BusinessWeek write, “Overall Amazon now has 158 fulfillment centers around the world, ChannelAdvisor estimates, and more than 100 million square feet of fulfillment capacity. That should help Santa Claus avoid getting stuck in the snow again this holiday season.” Perhaps all of this investment in warehousing and the inventory to fil it up will improve delivery, but it also exposes the inherent problem that, in the long haul, will bring about the demise of Amazon.

The International Manufacturing Technology Show wound down in Chicago last week and the sticky issue of attempting to buy excellence in the form of advanced technology versus managing for excellence through lean always comes to the forefront when this every other year extravaganza of whiz bang stuff takes place. The big buzz this year was a 3D printed car … it has only 49 parts crowed the makers, versus thousands for traditionally made cars – only the 49 parts includes one part number for the drive train which was not 3D printed and most of the thousands of parts attributed to traditional cars are drive train parts so it is not exactly and apples to apples comparison. Given its size, 40 MPH top speed and the 120 mile range of its electric motor it would be more accurate to say that a souped-up golf cart was made at the IMTS.