To remain relevant, a business philosophy can’t operate in a vacuum. Manufacturers, technology and the manufacturing workforce have all evolved. It seems logical that lean principles, too, must evolve.

Data management is one critical aspect that requires a fresh perspective. Since many of the early guides on lean concepts were written, big data technology has transformed reporting and analytics dramatically. Now, data can be used to predict market demands, rather than just report on historical transaction trends. Reporting tools are also easier to use, bringing key performance indicator (KPI) tracking to users throughout the organization. Users no longer need the help of the IT team to simply obtain a performance report. This ease of use brings a new challenge, though, over reporting and data deluge. Here is where the lean guidelines for “keeping processes simple” can help managers control the temptation to over-analyze.

Just-in-time inventory concepts, part of the lean philosophy, also need a refresher. Expectations over delivery dates have escalated greatly. In 1990, a six month delivery wait may have been tolerated; today, in some industries, six days or six hours may be too slow. Just as expectations have drastically changed, capabilities and best practices have kept pace. Raw materials can be shipped faster, received sooner, and put into the production value chain with remarkable speed, reducing even further the need to inventory raw materials. Even an extended, global supply chain can respond with great agility. This doesn’t mean lean principles can be ignored by warehouse managers. On the contrary, it is more important than ever to manage the complexity, minimize steps and optimize resources.

Shop floor scheduling is the next area that requires a new chapter in the lean manual. Early lean consultants didn’t address technologies, such as 3D printing, smart sensors, and IoT, for one important reason: these concepts were little more than visions and prototypes when the Toyota Production System drifted westward. Can manufacturers reconcile disruptive innovations and lean efficiency? How can a manufacturer balance innovation, which brings some natural waste as ideas are tried and discarded, with the lean mandate to minimize waste? On the surface, the two precepts seem incompatible.