In the wake of the current Toyota mess, it is time to rethink Lean implementation approaches and even the common definitions of Lean. Many in the Lean community have long held up Toyota as the ideal. They are still a great manufacturer, but very clearly not perfect. In fact, Toyota may have some very fundamental business management issues which were previously unrecognized in the rush to declare them the perfect company. Careful reflection on this experience can make Lean implementations more effective and comprehensive. However, I have seen very little written in a reflective tone. Many have been eager to jump on the bandwagon evaluating the issues at Toyota, but what does it mean to you and your company? I identify myself as a “Lean” professional, but more than once have considered whether this label applies to the way I consult and deliver software. My personal opinion is that this situation is a wake up call. Toyota is great at some things but has some serious gaps as well. The same goes for Lean implementation. I think that far too many Lean professional have become complacent, mechanical, and dogmatic in their approaches.
Here are a few things that have worried me for quite some time now and I think are worthy of consideration…
- The term Lean is not well defined in the broader business world – When I ask senior executives about Lean, most have a favorable view but no two will offer the same description of what it is. This is a real problem. In my mind, Lean was fairly well defined at the time of Womack’s original books, but has just become a confused mess of buzz words and half true implementation stories told by people interested only in selling books. Lesson -> It is time to take back the meaning of the term Lean and make it meaningful again
- Still uneven adoption outside the factory floor – Lots of companies say that they are doing Lean across the company. I have seen very few who have actually adapted it effectively for back office operations. The concepts are powerful here but require a very thoughtful approach to implementation. There are some consultants focusing in this area but I still see very little written about these practices. I have also heard many traditional Lean professionals speak disparagingly toward this kind of implementation. Not the kind of support that will drive broader adoption. Lesson -> Time to embrace the back office with the same vigor as the front office
- Much of the Lean community is still hostile to systems – This is one of the primary reason I started this blog. I will not dwell on this aspect since I have written widely about it elsewhere. Software is a key part of running big companies and despite flaws and unneeded complexity, it must be addressed. Lesson: Just stop the shallow rhetoric about systems and figure out how to align them better
- Still too much dogmatic and insular thinking – This is really a thread through all of these themes. You need a certain level of belief and commitment to do this work. There are still far too many “purists” who are inclined to look at any issue with a Lean implementation as reflecting lack of purity in the practice versus the potential of some other broader alignment issue. The other troubling subset of this is the class of purist consultants who have grown up believing that you have to be a class A jerk to make clients change. I have the perception that there is less of this now but I still see it. Lesson: A few practices require more prescriptive implementation, but most involve complex systems of machines, computers, people and material that require critical thinking to implement solutions true to fundamental Lean concepts
- Too much tactical work that fails to move up to strategic opportunity – No doubt, you have to start small and lay the groundwork for larger more fundamental changes. The problem is that many people get stuck doing 5S and tactical kaizen events and never graduate to the big strategic changes that fundamentally change a business. Lesson -> If you have been at the tactical level for a few years, rethink your approach now
I will update this as I have more thoughts on the matter. Thanks for reading.
No related posts.