Lean Business: Process, Management, and Accounting
The concept of lean business practice is a relatively new business model that was developed in Japan by Toyota. The underlying theory for lean business is that any business practice that does not add value or result in customer satisfaction, is considered wasteful and should be cut out. It essentially guts old, wasteful ways of production and business in favor of efficiency and necessity. The concept of lean business applies to more facets of a business organization than simply revolutionary production processes. Specifically, to understand lean business, it is important to understand its implications in production and the subsequent changes in management. New research in academia as well as within the workplace is required to develop newer methods of management under a lean business system. Finally, in response to lean business practices, accountants must be aware of new changes in accounting for production and business.
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Lean processing and manufacturing was developed in Japan by Toyota and was essentially built on elimination of three types of waste: unreasonable extra work (muri), elimination of planning fluctuations (mura) and elimination of actual output fluctuations (muda). Muri can be described as work that's unreasonable for the actual worker out on the floor such as moving heavy objects inefficiently, pushing capital beyond their workable limits and any other non-value added tasks that do not ultimately contribute to greater value to the customer. These sorts of activities are blatantly obvious and generally have nothing to do with the operations: it is the Japanese word for absurdity. In this regard, not only can lean accounting be used as a term to describe the accounting done for lean systems, but it can also be perceived as a new way in which accountants can do their work more efficiently to cut down on paperwork and have more time to measure and analyze production and process. Muda, the second of the three types of wastes is similar to muri, but is contrasted in that the activity is generally considered to be useful in theory, but may be costing more than the actual value the activity is adding. This sort of waste requires more analysis and is more generalized in nature than muri. Muda is the observation of waste at the end (output stage) of the production or manufacturing process. This indicates that a necessary process is not functioning appropriately and guides the manager to rectify the situation in accordance with lean production principles. Mura is preliminary waste that affects business processes potentially affecting muda, but must be taken care of in the initial/planning or processing stages. For example, lead time and push through processing creates wastes of time and excess product at the end of the production process. Elimination of mura creates a smooth and unvaried production process that's predictable, efficient and based on demand for the product, rather than raising production numbers. Another example of mura was the central issue of the Bearington Plant in The Goal and even our measurement of economic growth. The robots in The Goal created bottlenecks because of their maximum workflow in an hour. Furthermore, the lack of lean production at the plant created misdiagnosis of the problem: they were using the wrong metrics and measurements (production) instead of the proper measurements (sales and demand) to control production. Mura uses just-in-time processing which is a pull, rather than push production process. Instead of management putting pressure on the firm to create goods, production is determined by demand for the product. Another example of improper metrics is the way in which this nation measures economic growth: production, rather than actual sales. These two example metrics fail to take into account, analyze and observe extra inventory which is considered mura in business. Therefore, lean business does not merely create efficiency, save costs and quicken production, but it also provides an entirely new framework and method of management and has replaced traditionally accepted performance metrics into newer ways of measurement and evaluation that coincide with the true efficiency, profitability and overall status of the firm's processes.
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In order to achieve the lean goals of increasing quality and eliminating waste, management must be properly trained to implement the research, implementation and continued monitoring and use of lean production and manufacturing. One of the biggest issues managers and business leaders face with lean production is the concept of continuous improvement. Traditionally, any measurement or analysis of efficiency or productivity for a business unit is done in regular intervals that do not address the needs of a continuously improving process. The reason why lean production is so effective is that it strives for continuous improvement specifically the concept of kaizen, that complacency and meeting generic manufacturing standards typically is not sufficient to keep production lean. At face value, seeking continuous innovation and improvement will always benefit a firm and keep it operating efficiently. However, setting a goal of continuous improvement, instead of stratified, concrete objectives will enhance employee and process performance, instead of simply achieving organizational objectives and waiting for more orders from management. It also instills a sense of self-satisfaction within the organization if employees are encouraged to go above and beyond simple standards and instead push their abilities to the limit.
In order to implement a lean organization, managers have to first reevaluate and redesign their manufacturing systems. Typically the entire process is analyzed and constructed to save time and promote the just-in-time, demand based manufacturing process. Going Lean requires management that is able to roll up their sleeves and coach the new process on the shop floor. Usually the new system design will be much simpler in structure and will provide visual reminders like charts in order for each employee to see their importance within the framework of the process. Secondly, implementation requires continuous improvement and subsequently, continuous management involvement. Finally, management needs to adopt a new set of performance indicators and goals that coincide with the newly implemented lean production system. Instead of focusing on traditional metrics, lean performance metrics focus on overall equipment effectiveness and not only pertain to output or traditional efficiency measures, but also measure whether or not the lean process is actually being adhered to itself and working for the operation.
With any implementation of a new lean production or manufacturing system and the subsequent lean management techniques adopted by managers in the firm, the company adopts lean accounting in order to adapt to the new methods. One example of lean accounting retires departmental allocation and other traditional methods of cost accounting and instead implements value stream management and other lean accounting tools that better measure lean production. Under VSM, results are not measured and analyzed on a departmental basis, but rather, a company organizes into value streams. This coincides much better with the underlying principles of lean business because the organization and assessment of value streams by accountants better indicates if customers are getting the most value from the processes as possible rather than observing the efficiency of departments: it is a more customer centric approach to process measurement. Costs are accounted for their use within the value stream as opposed to standardized, algebraic allocation methods. Using VSM requires the coordination and cooperation of many departments in order to meet the needs of customers. Furthermore, because of the nature of VSM, companies utilizing the framework have found that communication and teamwork have increased within the firm because every function along the value stream works toward the same goal of increasing customer value, as opposed to independent budgetary goals implemented department by department. The new interdepartmental cohesion promulgated by value stream management might create synergies primarily in cost savings since so much idle time and waste is cut out by matching departmental work with a value stream.
Lean accounting also creates financial statements that are easier to analyze and provide simpler but more telling picture about the position of the firm. The traditional methods of managerial accounting are too standardized for the complexities of today's workplace. They fail to properly reflect operations in a firm and its methods of allocation and costing can sometimes be completely irrelevant to the way in which these processes utilize resources. In addition, traditional accounting has rules in place that allow firms to make their operations appear better than they actually are by allowing capitalizations and deferments. For example, under lean accounting, a pull/demand based system is used and excess inventory is seen as wasteful since it does not add value to the client. Under traditional accounting methods, excess inventory can be manipulated to appear as a positive reflection of the firm's value as it enhances its asset position.
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Lean business is slowly starting to wind its way into the American business environment, but its implementation has a long way to go. First, lean accounting does have its issues and negative aspects as many detractors are quick to point out. Second, academia still has not accepted lean business and accounting concepts so all graduating accountants barely have any knowledge of lean accounting. Some universities have begun to instruct in lean principles alongside traditional methods, but traditional managerial accounting pervades. Typically, the biggest hurdles of lean business are an overall skepticism of lean business as well as satisfaction with the status quo. Most firms that have utilized lean business and accounting have been satisfied with the results and interest is on the rise, but there is still a long way to go until full scale lean accounting is adopted.
Unleash the Power of Lean Accounting. Jan P Brosnahan. Journal of Accountancy. New York: Jul 2008. Vol. 206, 1, p.60-62,64,66.
Keeping It Lean. Brian Maskell and Ross Maynard. Intheblack. Aug 2008. 78, 7, p 59.
Lean Accounting's Quest for Acceptance. Josh Cable. IW (Industry Week). September 2009.
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