From Lean to Lean 'plus': how Agile principles help extend the concept of flow to cope with constant change.

Henry Ford developed the first assembly line in 1913 in Highland Park, Michigan. At the time, the concept was revolutionary and the word Flow was introduced for the first time, one of the guiding principles of today's Lean and Agile approach.

In 1948, when Toyota began its journey to improve its assembly line and developed the Toyota Production System (or TPS), it focused from the outset on the conditions that facilitate the seamless flow of processes, thus introducing the concept of flow, i.e. the reduction of Muri (the overloading of both the system and people), Mura (the smoothing out of irregularities) and Muda (the elimination of non-value-added activities).

Over the next 30 years, Toyota continued to develop its production system, which became known in the West as Lean Management. In the second half of the 20th century, the concept of Lean Thinking began to spread beyond manufacturing. In the various applications of Lean Thinking, increasing attention was paid to the elimination of waste (Muda), through the creation of standards to make processes plannable and therefore stable, with the primary focus on reducing the overload of activities (Muri) and their irregularity (Mura).

Today, with increasing complexity and the speed of change, it is no longer taken for granted that stability can be created as a prerequisite for lean processes. On the contrary, with the need to introduce continuous innovations, the importance of stability is often overtaken by the importance of being flexible and responsive. In a word: AGILE.

At Toyota, the idea of 'e... e...' (as opposed to 'oo...') was introduced. (as opposed to 'o....o...'), highlighting how a good quality machine can be both economical and produced quickly. Now this way of thinking is relevant again and this is one of the new frontiers of Lean: to be both stable and efficient, both flexible and effective.

In a context of continuous change, the concept of value flow is valued and the transition, as illustrated in the article "The New New Product Development Game" published in Harvard Business Review in 1986, from the idea of the relay race, where each athlete (function) passes the baton (project) to the next, to the idea of the rugby scrum, where a unit of people (all functions) work together from the beginning to the end of the race (project).


This enhances the value of the people involved in the activities, giving them more responsibility and decision-making powers. So how can we minimise constraints so that employees can concentrate on doing their jobs and cope with constant change?