Lean manufacturing, made famous by the Toyota Production System, is an amazing approach to manufacturing that marries continuous improvement with empowerment of individuals. It is a holistic management approach that attempts to 'make visible' each element of production and eliminate waste.
Wastes that can occur include overproduction, unnecessary transportation, inventory, and worker motion, defects, over-processing, and waiting.
Some years ago I was fortunate enough to travel to Japan on a Lean Manufacturing study tour. While there, I saw exemplar lean manufacturing in a wide range of companies, including Toyota, Kikkoman, ITO EN, and others.
The 737 assembly line in Renton, Wash. is a marvel of lean manufacturing. The line inches forward little-by-little as assembly proceeds. Born from Toyota’s production methods, the process is one of continual improvement. It’s what made the 737 the lifeblood of Boeing in the first place and why this crisis, taken to its most extreme, could threaten the company’s very existence. But the assembly line also comes with a tool called an Andon cord. The cord empowers all employees to pull it and stop the line if something is amiss or requires investigation and needs fixing. The rest of the world has already pulled it.