Lean must be seen as a journey, not a destination. It requires a continuous effort; moving through errors and reversals to achieve top efficiency. Maybe the major slowdowns have resulted from convincing management about lean’s long-term value, enforcing eye-opening and hard reviews of inefficient processes and directing unwilling personnel to assume new ideas and actions.

But even worse, those errors and reversals are not controllable by manufacturers anymore. Huge raw materials and services costs and low-cost labor locations are two important examples.

It is now that manufacturers are discovering that lean alone is not enough. It is not just about improving the process, it is about a culture change, too, and also about a much needed direct cutting of costs that lean is not able to provide all the time in order to excel over cheaper labor options, for example.

Lean has proven to be counterproductive in some sense. Some manufacturers have had to reverse their lean gains because of the amount of materials coming from overseas, some of them of lesser quality than the domestic ones. Still, others have had to increase materials inventories because of unreliable delivery services.

Due to this situation, manufacturers are implementing ideas that are compatible with the lean thinking, like trade payables, allowing them to order extra materials while keeping low inventories. However, it seems these ideas are not being implemented fast enough; they are, in reality, being forced upon them once the situation proves unsolvable through “conventional” means.

Of course, manufacturers should not forget about lean, and this is a que for the help and advice of pharmaceutical consultants and their companies, that can leverage their skill sets to the advantage of the client. It is the time to be extremely creative, due to the wild competitive situation out there. Maybe it is time to demand the same level of lean performance from healthcare suppliers and providers as the one demanded from raw materials suppliers, or perhaps it’s time to check the cost-of-consumer or develop a less cyclic mix.

The new road to take will vary between manufacturers and industries, but one thing is certain, lean is not all there is or is needed anymore. Besides process improvements, the market is asking for thorough reviews of the whole company and industry. This is the signal to think out of the box.

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