Few terms cause manufacturing professionals’ eyes to glaze over like “probability.” They perceive it as a complicated theory without much relevance to their work. It is nowhere to be found in the Japanese literature on production systems and supply chains, or in the American literature on Lean. Among influential American thinkers on manufacturing, Deming was the only one to focus on it, albeit implicitly, when he made “Knowledge of Variation” one of the four components of his System of Profound Knowledge (SoPK).
“Twenty-five years ago, I tried to coach adult college students to seek and solve problems using the classic Deming PDCA Circle. In classrooms, students were unused to identifying their own problems rather than having them pre-defined. The first time through this exercise, over half did not reflect on a problem to seek root cause. Instead, they went shopping for a gizmo, a program, or a recipe to fix the problem – a quick-fix mentality.”
Sourced through the Compression Institute
Michel Baudin‘s comments: 33 years ago, Robert W. Hall wrote Zero Inventories, the first original, technically meaty book in English about Lean Manufacturing, and I have had great respect for him ever since.
In Toyota’s Guiding Principles, last revised in 1997, Michael Ballé sees more than “goal-oriented efficiency.” While I would not use a phrase like “goal-oriented efficiency,” the principles do not strike me as anything beyond strategic guidelines to ensure the long-term, worldwide viability of the company. If they serve this purpose, great, but a car manufacturer is the wrong place to look for philosophical enlightenment.
“Nearly two years ago my family and I moved to Tokyo. As a lean coach and enthusiast, you can imagine my excitement. I set out with the intention to deeply learn about Japanese business culture, leadership, and application of kaizen (Japanese for “continuous improvement”). I saw my time in Japan as a unique opportunity to immerse myself in the environment where the principles we call “lean” were born.
Now, after 18 months spent in Japan (we have just moved back to California), I find myself reflecting on what I learned and how the experience living there has shaped my own thinking about and understanding of lean. I want to share some of these thoughts with you.
The main theme that has emerged from my reflection is that Japanese culture does not equal Toyota culture. What we call “lean” is not inherently easy for the Japanese and there are cultural traits that both enable and inhibit the adoption of principles of the Toyota Production System (TPS)…”
Sourced through Planet Lean
Michel Baudin‘s comments: Katie Anderson is back from Japan, after 18 months, where she realized that the Toyota Production System (TPS) is the brainchild of smart people who happened to be Japanese and not the product of Japanese culture. Based on my own immersion in Japanese culture, and years of work with Japanese mentors and partners, I concur.
Two years ago, I advocated dropping the “Sensei” nonsense but it soldiers on. Blog readers keep asking questions about it. Consultants who do not speak Japanese keep answering that there is a fundamental difference between a sensei and a consultant, and seeing a deep meaning in the word “Sensei” that just isn’t there. There is indeed a difference, but it is basic: “Sensei” is a polite term for schoolteachers and other instructors, while a consultant is someone who gets paid for an engagement, as opposed to an employee. One word refers to a role; the other one, to a business relationship.
“Fifteen years ago, Art Byrne suggested to me that the title of our book about The Wiremold Company’s Lean transformation should be Lean Strategy. I resisted that suggestion because I did not view Lean as a strategy, despite Art’s firm view that Lean is a strategy. Who was right, me or Art?”
Sourced through Lean Leadership
Michel Baudin‘s comments:
Strategy originally is a military term, for the plans on where you deploy armies and fleets and for what purposes. It is supplemented by tactics, the methods used in the field to engage the enemy. It is easy to think of it as cascading down, where what is tactics to the general is strategy to the colonel, and so on down to the grunt, who only has tactics. To the CEO, Lean is not a strategy but a tactic; to the VP of Manufacturing, on the other hand, it is a strategy.
For details in this blog, see last year’s About Strategy, Tactics, and Lean.
“The kids are hungry, the driver has a headache and everyone has to go to the bathroom. If you’re traveling by car on a holiday weekend, the last thing you want to find at a roadside rest stop is a long line for a toilet. Companies that run major highway service plazas in Japan go to considerable lengths to ensure you never will, as they compete for the coveted Japan Toilet Award from the transportation ministry…”
Sourced through the New York Times
Michel Baudin‘s comments: When at airports or museums, you find the Men’s room readily accessible while there is a long line of women waiting on the other side, you cannot help but blame the architects for lack of respect for humanity. The buildings may look great, and may even excel at their primary function — getting passengers on and off airplanes, or giving access to cultural treasures — but they suck at details that are vital to the basic, physical comfort of their users.
“Every family has a few members who are eccentric and problematic – like the proverbial crazy uncle locked in the attic. While this makes for fun conversations at family events – provided these folks don’t attend! – crazy relatives can become a real problem if their antics reflect on the whole family. In the lean movement my two candidates for crazy relatives are Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford, who continue to cause us trouble 101 and 69 years after passing from this life.[…]”
Sourced from: Planet Lean
Michel Baudin‘s comments: First, thanks to Bob Emiliani, for bringing this article to my attention through his own critique of it. I disagree with the article too, but for different reasons. Womack wants to put a distance between his Lean and the legacy of Taylor and Ford, by branding them “crazy relatives.”
I see them as precursors, alongside many others, not crazy relatives. When implementing concepts from Toyota outside Japan, it is better salesmanship to embrace local precursors and stand on their shoulders than to dismiss them. Lean/TPS goes down easier when presented as a new chapter in an existing, familiar story than as an alien approach, and I believe this is why Toyota’s PR literature emphasizes the link to Ford.
Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic And The Spirit Of Capitalism is a 110-year old essay that remains influential today and claims a relationship between the development of science, technology, and industry and the ideology of “ascetic Protestantism,” a label under which he groups Calvinists (American presbyterians), Pietists (Vanished in the US) , Methodists, and Baptists. The English translation is a short 124 pages. It is easy to read, not entirely convincing, and a window into the mind of a social scientist ca. 1900. The obvious flaw in Weber’s argument is the prominent role played in the scientific and industrial revolution by societies like England where ascetic Protestantism had little or no influence.
Sourced through LEI
“Dear Gemba coach,
Does respect for humanity mean the same as respect for people? I hear that the literal translation of the Japanese phrase “respect for people” is really respect for “humanness” – whatever that means?
I honestly don’t know, but it’s a very interesting point. I don’t know a word of Japanese,…”
“…but Jon Miller, who does, makes a similar point here: he says the original Toyota phrase really means ‘holding precious what it is to be human.'”
My comments: Yes, Jon Miller grew up in Japan, speaks Japanese like a native, and has done a great job translating Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management. With only four years of immersion in Japan, I am not at his level, but I know the language well enough to read the manufacturing literature and tell the difference between respect for people and respect for humanity in the TPS sense. Here are a few posts on this subject: