Have you heard people state that they are “implementing Lean” or, perhaps if they are further on their journey, that they are “doing Lean”? If so, I contend that they don’t really understand ‘Lean’. It is not something that you can tick the box when you ‘get there’.
And, because of this, it is no surprise to me when I come across people with a jaundiced view of ‘Lean’ – their understanding of it is probably not what those who coined the ‘Lean’ label would have hoped. This is no fault of the beholder – they are not cynics, just people who are likely to have experienced (or been passed on war stories about) L.A.M.E.
And before you ask a ‘Lean consultant’ if they agree with the above, bear in mind that there are two types of (usually clever) consultants: a) those that are selling a methodology and a bunch of related tools and b) those that really ‘get it’…and even they are (understandably) trying to make a living.
As a reminder: the word ‘Lean’ was simply attached as a label to describe the system (i.e. the complete management philosophy, principles, and operational practices) that a team at MIT uncovered within the Japanese car industry (but particularly Toyota) through their research, which began as far back as 1977.
The ‘Lean’ label has been on a journey since it was first coined in 1987 – it has spawned an industry of its own. Of note, one of the foundational researchers, Jim Womack, has spent time reflecting on this journey and accepts that ‘the early years’ were somewhat unfortunately tools focused. He is trying to reset people’s thinking.
Reflect that Taiichi Ohno, often referred to as the father of the Toyota Production System (TPS), didn’t want to write it down because he insisted we shouldn’t codify method, fearing that it would become stale – being seen as ‘the answer’ rather than merely the current state of thinking, to be continually challenged and improved.
So, I hope you understand when I try to be very specific when I talk about ‘Lean Thinking‘…and perhaps even get a bit edgy/ pedantic when people switch to talking just about ‘Lean’. This is because the real value in what the MIT researchers uncovered (which, incidentally, was being clearly articulated by Deming, Ackoff and others) is that Toyota’s success is based on their management system: the way they think….which has enabled, and continues to enable them to consistently deliver increasing value to their customers, whilst providing secure yet engaging work for their employees…which then delivers excellent results.
You can’t pick up a ‘Toyota organisation’ kit off the shelf and implement it into your organisation. You have to understand why they are achieving and how this differs to you…and it’s all in the thinking!
Oh yes, so what’s L.A.M.E? This is (yet another) label as dreamt up by Mark Grabban, a Lean blogger in the health space. It stands for ‘Lean As Misguidedly Executed’. If you remain within a command-and-control management system, having ‘Lean’ ostensibly done to you then this is clearly L.A.M.E.
To end with a quote from a favourite blog of mine (Thinkpurpose):
“Don’t call it anything: if it has a name, people (including you) will waste time arguing about what ‘it’ is and isn’t….
Call it something: otherwise nobody can ever talk about it!”
As Womack no doubt reflects on choosing to label what they learned from their research – you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.