COMPARISON OF LEAN AND AGILE
Lean production and agile manufacturing are sometimes compared, and in this final section we attempt such a comparison. Are lean and agile really different? They certainly use different statements of principles. The four principles of lean production are compared with the four principles of agility in Table 27.S. We also compare the main features of the
two systems in Table 27.6. The emphasis in lean seems to be more on technical and operational issues, whereas agility emphasizes organization and people issues. Lean applies mainly to the factory. Agility is broader in scope, applicable to the enterprise level and even beyond to the formation of virtual enterprises. One might argue that agility represents an evolutionary next phase of lean production. Certainly the two systems do not compete. If anything, agility complements lean. It extends lean thinking to the entire organization Agility is to lean a, manufacturing resource planning is to material requirements planning.
If there is a difference between these two production paradigms, it is in the area of change and change management. Lean tries to minimize change, at least external change. It attempts to smooth out the ups and downs in the production schedule. It attempts to reduce the impact of changeovers on factory operations so that smaller batch sizes and lower inventories are feasible. It uses flexible production technology to minimize disruptions caused by design changes. By contrast, the philosophy of agility is to embrace change. The emphasis is on thriving in an environment marked by continuous and unpredictable change. It acknowledges and attempts to be responsive to change, even to be the change agent if it leads to competitive advantage.
Is this distinction in the way change seems to be viewed in the two systems a fundamental difference? This author would argue that although there may be a difference in viewpoint and perhaps strategy with regard to change, there is no difference in method or approach. The capacity of an agile company to adapt to change or to be a change agent depends on its capabilities to have a flexible production system, to minimize the time and cost of changeover, to reduce onhand inventories of finished products, and to avoid other forms of waste. These capabilities belong to a lean production system. For a company to be agile, it must also be lean.