Lean hits national headlines thanks to Toyota ‘donation’

There’s a recent story in the New York Times that’s about as inspiring as it gets in the world of continuous improvement.

toyota logoMona El-Naggar writes in the Times’ city section about how the Food Bank for New York City is serving the needy faster and more efficiently, with remarkable improvements visible from the kitchen to the warehouse. To thank for this is none other than automaker Toyota, which first approached the food bank in 2011 offering charity in the form of process improvement support.

Examples of the gains FBNYC has seen: Wait time for dinner is at 18 minutes, down from almost 90; the time needed to fill bags at the food pantry was slashed in half; and in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, time spent packing boxes at a New York-area warehouse dropped from 3 minutes to a lean and mean 11 seconds.

This isn’t elaborate Toyota engineer wizardry at work, here. Like in any organization, it’s all about reorganizing inventory, throwing some kanbans into the mix, and identifying bottlenecks in the process.

My favorite vignette in the story comes from the director of distribution at the food bank, who said they initially met Toyota’s offer with hesitation. “They make cars; I run a kitchen,” he told the Times.

Anyone who’s worked hard for buy-in on a bold vision would understand that hesitation, but it’s organizations such as Toyota and our Center for Operational Excellence members who are demonstrating each day that the drive to make processes great isn’t restricted to the automotive or manufacturing industries. Lean can work anywhere – and that it’s beginning to fan out into the nonprofit sector is a tremendously good sign.

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