Why doesn’t Lean work? | A discussion started by Norman Bodek

Norman Bodek asked this provocative question on the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn, and elaborated as follows:

“Lean is a total system of continuous improvement with everyone involved.

A few years back, I visited Toyota’s plant in Georgetown, Kentucky with the group of executives from various construction corporations. One member of our team asked Gary Convis, then president of Toyota, ” What do you expect from your workers?” Gary answered, “Only two things: come to work and pull the cord.”

Simple, but how many of you attempting to do Lean allow your employees to pull the cord, stop the line, and have everybody, literally everybody in the plant, wait until that one person resolves the problem. I would guess only 1% or less of you that are attempting to implement lean allow your workers to stop the line. Why?

Lean is a very powerful process that has allowed Toyota to grow from a company that made junk in 1952 to one of the largest most successful corporations in the world producing some of the highest quality automobiles available. And the essence of Lean is to empower every employee to become a problem solver, to make every employee self-reliant. But how do you do this? How can you begin to trust your employees that they will make the right decision for the company? I say “simple”, because if Toyota can do it so can you.

Yes, you are running your kaizen blitzes and they are wonderful. Yes, you are doing Six-Sigma and that is wonderful. Yes, you are doing value stream mapping and it is wonderful. Yes, you are doing 5S, setting up cellular manufacturing, doing TPM, Hoshin Kanri, and using many of the wonderful Toyota tools, but you are, for some strange reason, not empowering your employees to be self-reliant.

Toyota probably fearful to build plants in America, suggested to General Motors to set up a joint venture and Toyota would teach them how to use the Toyota production system and be able to transfer it to all General Motors plants. GM, laughingly, selected their worse plant in Fremont, California, NUMMI, and gave it to Toyota to run. One year later, NUMMI became the best plant in the GM system but GM never really learned how to implement properly in their other plants and GM went bankrupt.

I recently came back from Japan, my 81st trip, and was told that Toyota is still the best model to follow. I strongly recommend that you learn how to emulate them and get every single employee involved in continuous improvement. Find a way to let everyone in your company walk on two feet. But, I ask you, ‘How are you going to do it? How are you going to make lean work?'”

There have been 70 comments, as of today, from Sid Joynson, William Botha, Thomas Ligocki, Philip Marris, Anthony Mangione, Peter WintonCarlos Hernández, and others. My own response was as follows:

Norman’s diagnosis that Lean isn’t working is correct if you are discussing what passes for Lean in the US, and it’s not just an impression. A few years ago, I did my own analysis, the results of which were published as a Viewpoint in Manufacturing Engineering in 2006 . I chose 40 winners of the Shingo Prize and searched Hoovers Online, for comparative performance data with their 400 top competitors. On the average, the data did not show that the Shingo Prize predicted any advantage in profitability, market share or employment growth.

Fundamentally, most Lean programs today are to serious implementations as cheap imitation shoes are to the training of Usain Bolt.

Norman, however, goes one level deeper when he says “Lean is a total system of continuous improvement with everyone involved,” which implies that the key to making Lean successful is to get everyone involved in continuous improvement, and I don’t think that is the case. Don’t get me wrong. It is no doubt a wonderful and useful thing. I just don’t see it as the key.

I find it always enlightening to compare the literature on Lean published in the US with what you find in Japan, which Norman is certainly familiar with, from having organized the translation of several classics in the 1980s. I have in my hands a newer book that I picked up on my last visit to Japan, that has not been translated yet. It is from 2009, by Mikiharu Aoki, a 25-year Toyota alumnus who became a consultant in 2004. The title means “The heart of introducing the Toyota Production System” (トヨタ生産方式導入の奥義), and it is heavily technical.

By contrast, the bulk of the American literature is shockingly light on technical content, which is dismissed as a tactical toolbox you shouldn’t worry about too much. Instead, the literature you should focus strategic issues like change management, motivating people, and calculating metrics.

Crispin Vincenti-Brown identified four dimensions to manufacturing:

  • The engineering of production lines.
  • Logistics and production control.
  • Organization and people.
  • Metrics and accountability.

In the US, the engineering dimension is ignored. Logistics receives some attention, but Lean programs are overwhelmingly focused on the last two: organization and metrics. It is out of balance, and I believe this is the reason these programs fail.

30 comments on “Why doesn’t Lean work? | A discussion started by Norman Bodek

  1. Comment in the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn:

    I have seen Lean work, and I have seen it not work. It doesn’t work when it is top driven, with top management not engaging hands on on the floor.At best you get compliance from the employees (which means no change in culture regardless of how much training they get). It doesn’t work when lean is used as cost reduction, or when it’s tied in to financial goals.

    It doesn’t work when it progresses as checks on a checklist; usually the emphasis becomes on earning the check mark rather than the quality of the action. It doesn’t work when forced to meet specific goals and targets for the same reason.

    It doesn’t work when there are limited resources assigned for problem solving, follow up, and prevention. It’s one thing to pull the chord, but if no one does anything about it and you pull the chord every day, pulling the chord does not make you lean. I could go on, but I have seen lean fail when we drive, measure, or expect lean to achieve any traditional methods, thinking, behavior, or objectives.

    I have seen it work when CEOs and CFOs are on the floor participating hands on on kaizen events, side by side with workers. I have seen it work when decisions on lean projects are made in line with the future or ideal state of a VSM. I have seen it work when the workers on the floor and in offices have been engaged first, organized as teams to support process flows, and have taken on the responsibility to manage it.

    These same people, once they learn to reject traditional values and practices, will gravitate to the lean tools and to management’s support in order to streamline, support, and manage a value stream, or a piece of it. Lean works when people are organized by multifunctional and multi-skilled teams. Lean works when all financial thinking and measurements have been removed from decision making, and people are allowed to think for themselves with management’s support.

    No one will make a financially irresponsible decision if self generated and they are held responsible to live with it. Lean works when decisions are made at the time needed, at the place needed, by the people that have to live with it. Lean works when the culture change is from the bottom up, and the vision, commitment, and involvement is from the top down, implying that any executive who is committed and involved has already experienced a cultural change.

    Culture change when workers believe that it their company that is fighting for survival, that their job is predicated on the success of the company, and that they have the opportunity to use their knowledge, skill and expertise to fight for and protect their jobs. It works when they see Lean as a personal growth and development activity, that can be acquired for free by being part of it, worth more than an expensive college education. Lean works when it becomes personal, inclusive, and iterative. But most importantly, lean works when seen as a way to manage for the future, and not a way to emulate Toyota, since Lean drives you to be excellent and naturally become first (not as an objective, but as a natural result.) Emulating Toyota, while Toyota is constantly upgrading itself is a sure way to assure that at the very best you will always be second.

  2. Comment in the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn:

    “Oh Michel, let me count the ways I luv you…” yesterday having been Valentine’s Day.

    In the interest of reasoned debate, however;

    How were the 40 (you chose) doing before they started out on their lean journey?

    Where in the Shingo Prize literature do they state you will improve market share, profitability or growth? And if so, when do they say to expect to see those numbers change?

    How long had your 40 been trying to deploy Lean? How long did it take Toyota to internalize it, and how long did it take for them to take that experience to their vendors?

    ‘The word ‘Fail’ is a bit ‘final’ isn’t it? If you had looked at Toyota in the early fifties you may have said the same about them, wouldn’t you? What about when their pallet kanban system failed after 1961? Isn’t Lean a journey without an end point, and not a ‘program’?

    For my part, I agree with most of your underlying themes.

    I concur that there is no such thing as a bottom-up deployment – every lean deployment I have seen, that is progressing well, started out with strong commitment and drive from the top. However, the really good ones have involved 80% or more of the citizenry. And there is a clear ‘critical mass’ of involvement in each organization that, once crested, the rate of change visibly accelerates.

    One item that may need some deliberation here is this ‘journey’ thing.

    Have you ever seen a cheetah sit under a tree after chasing game all day, saying to itself; “Demmit, I’m done! ?” (They’re said to be successful on AVERAGE once out of ten runs.) Ever seen an ant shrug off it’s load and walk off muttering to itself that this job really sucks?

    The human species however knows how to give up.

    And I think stalled, or sidelined, deployments may be the result of the leader a) not having committed to the TPS philosophy, or b) the leader was changed out for someone who was more ‘conventional’ about shouting for results, or c) the ‘instant gratification’ syndrome bit them and they gave up too early or finally, the deployment sucked and they saw the writing on the wall. These are all simply different ways of giving up.

    I liken commitment to that demonstrated by a parachutist. Once you’re out of the door, there’s no turning back. You may try to get back in, but all you will do is guarantee a very bad landing.

    Oh, and on the literature thing! I try to restrict my reading, and that of my students, to authors who have actually delivered long term results from successful deployments – and there are very few out there. Those who try to make money out of this new fad called ‘Lean’ are easy to detect and avoid. (Even Womack failed at his bicycle shop attempt…)

    Finally, I agree strongly with you (yes, true) that most of the Lean literature dumbs the subject matter down so far as to be practically useless, PC – yes, but still useless. Which is why I believe that a study of the original conceptual meanings in Japanese, German or English are worth while.

    • I don’t know how the 40 did before, but the Shingo Prize is supposed to reward manufacturing excellence, not improvement from a bad starting point. I used the metrics of market share, profitability and employment growth for two reasons. First, I would expect a successful Lean implementation to improve all three; second, I had access to them.

      Improving these metrics is not identified as a goal in the Shingo model, which is all about process compliance. I don’t know how long the 40 had been at it, but what they had accomplished was deemed good enough to warrant the Shingo Prize.

      I think the first condition for success in Lean implementation is to do it for the right reasons, and process compliance is not it. Its pursuit makes plants look Lean, but it doesn’t make them Lean. The right motivation is the pursuit of concurrent improvement in all dimensions of performance: Quality, Delivery, Cost, Safety, Morale, all at the same time.

  3. Comment in the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn:

    “Good Lean” and “Bad Lean”.

    I agree with both William and Michael that good copies/adaptations of TPS/Toyota Way are still rare throughout the world. To get a “Good Lean” accreditation I also believe that we should measure something like “market share, profitability and employment growth” as Michael suggests. “Good Lean” is a necessarily a beautiful story such as how to become the number one car manufacturer after starting from zero. “Bad Lean” is Muda headhunting that in practice is nothing more than a process of continuous downsizing leading inexorably to extinction.

    Why has Toyota’s example been so hard to copy? I wish I knew and if I understand some of the postings in this group there are many very experienced people here searching for the answer to that question. Some of us manage to get some companies to the “Good Lean” stage at least partially. But we all seem to be struggling to be understood by a larger audience.

    Nearly every manufacturing company all over the world says it is Lean or trying to get Lean. Services companies (Banks!) are starting to pretend they are on a Lean journey. No doubt someone will soon start to promote kitchen furniture with a “Lean Kitchen” offering. Consultants (and I am a horrible consultant) are doing a worse job than usual because, among other things, of the fundamental Gemba + Engineering + Kaizen + Kata + etc. foundation and the irrelevance of PowerPoint slides in “Good Lean”.

    So, in 2013, we have this sort of discussion in this sort of group. Experienced, knowledgeable and frustrated individuals who ask “Why doesn’t Lean work?” And outside of this group a majority of manufacturing companies all over the world trying very hard to do…”Bad Lean”.

    Thank you Norman for your question and your mention of Harada. I am ashamed to say I have not yet found the time to learn about the Harada Method but it is on my To Do list.

    It’s a strange world. I hope one day soon one of us will find the key to what we are doing wrong and get everyone going on the “Good Lean” journey.

    Thank you to all the contributors in this group. It regularly provides me with lots of thought provoking ideas.

  4. Comment in the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn:

    People with their three dimensions are the only tool you really need. I think they are like a magic wand when they are fully engaged. They are also the only tool that will guarantee the effective widespread use of all the others. Without them you will never achieve sustained success, whichever tools you use.
    You must release and focus the three dimensions possessed by ‘all’ your people.
    They are;
    Talent: their ability to do existing tasks well.
    Creativity: their ability to continuously improve what they do.
    Enthusiasm: their strong emotional desire to do both.
    This is at the heart of the Toyota Production System, and the missing element of lean thinking.
    Most people see the Toyota production system as a set of tools and techniques. It is not! it is a set of attitudes.
    The ones above and the respect they create are the foundation of Toyota’s Attitude System (TAS). Toyota’s Attitude System is not part of most people’s understanding of TPS.

    Many companies have discovered that just using the tools and techniques of lean does not create sustained success. When translating TPS into lean thinking the original translators missed the importance of TAS.
    Lean without TAS, is like a body without a working heart.
    A corpse.
    It takes people some time to see it, but it was dead from the start.
    (The initial lean activities act as a life support system. When they are withdrawn the patient/lean dies. Sounds familiar.)

    R.I.P can mean Rest In Peace or Routinely Involve (all your) People.
    Your choice
    Two of my favourite Drucker quotations sum what we need to do next.
    “All this thinking and discussing must eventually degenerate into action/work.”
    “My problems don’t come from the absence of knowing what to do, but from an absence of doing it.

    Two final quotations in case you still have any doubts about the power of people involvement, or you have to convince others. They come from Confucius and Jack Welch, I show them at the start of all my workshops.
    In 500 BC Confucius reportedly said;
    If you want one year of prosperity grow grain.
    If you want ten years of prosperity grow trees.
    If you want one hundred years of prosperity grow your people.

    2500 years later Jack echoed Confucius when he said.
    We know where most of the creativity, the innovation the stuff that drives productivity lies, it’s in the minds of those closest to the work. Management is about tapping this ocean of creativity, passion and energy that as far as we can see has no bottom or shores.

    Enough said, now let’s just do it.

    Good luck
    I enjoy contributing to these discussions. They help me ‘uncarve’ my own thoughts on each subject.

    • You wrote “Lean being defined in its original Toyota form as: Providing what the customer wants, in the quantity they want, when they want it.”

      Is that it? It sounds like Business 101, rather than the result of the efforts of hundreds of thousands of people over 75 years, and more if you include the concepts from Toyoda’s loom business.

      In 2013, considering the state of the Japanese economy, and its electronics industry in particular, Matsushita’s 1979 pronouncement sounds like hubris.

      When quoting people, I also think we should consider their deeds as well as their words. As I recall, Jack Welch was the pioneer of the rank-and-yank system at GE, which turned the review system into a game of musical chairs, with the “bottom” 10% systematically fired.

      TPS is not reducible to a set of attitudes. With the right attitudes but without proper technical and managerial skills, your organization can enthusiastically fall off a cliff.

      • Comment in the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn:

        The goals of TPS are to give the customer what they want, in the quantity when they want it. This was Toyoda’s original idea of manufacturing products just in time (JIT) for the customer . If you do this more effectively than any existing or future competitor it will guarantee your success. The perfect business plan. It is a pity JIT thinking has got lost in all this lean thinking.

        Obviously TPS has a full range of tools and techniques. But their details are widely known, and our discussion is why does lean not work.

        I think Matsushita’s words in 1979 were prophetic. I wish the British electronic industry had performed as badly as the Japanese one over this period.

        Jack Welch had a dark side. That is why his comment and praise for the front line people is more significant than if he was known as a people person. I only use people’s good bits and Jack had many of those.

        Most people know the methodology, and technology of TPS. I believe the reason it fails when tried by different organisations is they do not adopt Toyota’s peopleology.

      • Sakichi Toyoda did not leave behind a book explaining his philosophy, so we have to go by what he did. If all he cared about was “to give the customer what they want, in the quantity when they want it,” why did he spend his life improving loom technology? If you had conducted focus groups of loom users in Japan in 1895, do you think they would have said they wanted automatic shuttle changes and automatic stoppage in case of weft breakage?

        In addition, the way he went about improving loom technology left another legacy: the incremental automation approach known as Jidoka, later described by Ohno as the second pillar of TPS, on an equal footing with JIT.

        You are saying that the details of TPS tools and techniques are widely known. Where? By whom? How many manufacturing managers or engineers do you know who understand heijunka, cell design, work-combination charts, the proper use of andons, or wage systems to support Lean?

        Most lists of “Lean tools” do not even mention these tools. All you see is VSM which, to say the least is minor in TPS, kaizen events that not even part of it, and 5S, which is mistakenly presented as easy to implement.

        When I was in Japan in 1980, organizing factory tours, what we saw and its impact on foreign visitors made my colleagues and me pessimistic about the feasibility of competing with it. The only hope we could find was in the overconfidence of the Japanese managers we met, and your Matsushita quote is a perfect example of it. My condolences for the British electronics industry, but who would have thought then that Nissan would end up controlled by Renault?

        Regarding Jack Welch, I think that words that are in contradiction with deeds on the same topic are disqualifiers. Henry Ford had some good bits on assembly line concepts. He was also a Nazi sympathizer, which showed poor judgment on people issues and disqualified him on that topic. In the following picture, you see him receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle in July, 1938.
        Henry Ford receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle in 1938

        It is SO untrue that “most people know the methodology and technology of TPS.” The distance between what is common knowledge and what is needed for successful implementation is like that between playing chopsticks on the piano and Chopin in concert.

  5. In my last comment, I was responding point by point to Sid’s last post, not to the original question, to which I had responded in my first comment in this thread.

    People who get involved with Lean, whether as employees of companies that implement it or as consultants, come from a variety of backgrounds. Few are engineers. You see MBAs, psychologists, marketing people, and the occasional cognitive sociologist and defrocked priest. There is nothing wrong with having all these different perspectives, as long as they don’t turn into the six blind men with the elephant, but they often do.

    The psychologist takes engineering for granted while the engineer does the same for organization and people issues and the production control manager thinks that everything revolves around planning and scheduling….

    The truth is that you can’t have a successful implementation unless you address, in the right sequence, engineering, production control/logistics, organization and people, and metrics. You can’t really expect anyone to master all of these, but you need a team that does, and where every member understands that his or her perspective is not the whole picture.

    • Comment in the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn:

      Michel,..you have hit on some important items here, and the subject of getting everyone on the Lean Team involved and more importantly understanding “what” the other person does. Let me say that better,….we are talking now about the “Customer” who is your customer?
      Many companies and organizations only see the end user as their customer, when in fact you have customers all about you, all around you, within the Value Stream. Even in some very successful companies, I have seen the “Team” scratch their heads when you ask “who is your customer?” “Well Tom,..it is the lady or gentleman in the store that buys our product, that’s easy.” OUCH! no,..your customer is the next person in line in the process, in the evolution. And that person behind you? Well, you are their customer and so on and so forth.
      Identify the Value Stream and every one in it. If you focus on your customer’s needs, and even, how they do what they do, each and every person in the Value Stream will be focusing on their customer and then the magic starts happening. If you sincerely treat everyone you meet as a customer, and find out how you can help them, assist them, learn about them, so you can better “Serve” them,…you will start to “see” and “know”, and Care, and find ways to improve how you take care of “your” customer, and in turn positively affect their customer!

      When people look at the Team, they naturally look at what is their title and what are they resposnisible for, what is their specialty,, etc. as if they we’re a boxcar that is sitting on a track, “unhitched” from the entire train. You have to look for the “connection point” to the next boxcar in the process and look at how they are going to be connected. The whole train is made up of boxcars, that are connected and that move together,…if one becomes “unhitched” we have a problem,….Someone pull the cord, and stop the engine from pulling!!!

      To get a better feel for your “customer” I sometims ask people to think back on their first real “Crush” and how they focused and thought about that person for most of their waking hours,… that is how you need to think and feel about your customer. Focused and “wanting” to make them happy!! Oink, Oink, Sensei Botha,….true commitment!

      • “The next process is the customer” is a metaphor from TQC that I think is overused. Real customers pay and have the option to buy from another supplier; the operator of the next station on the line doesn’t pay and cannot get your output from another source.

        “The next process is the customer” truly means “Treat the next process as if it were a customer.” Using this metaphor may be useful in influencing attitudes, but we should never forget the difference. Otherwise, we could have a business where everybody looks after “customers” but it goes bankrupt for lack of customers who actually pay.

        The exclusive emphasis on customers is also misleading. I remember managers who couldn’t see the value of heijunka, because it has to do with making life easier for suppliers, while all they thought they should care about was “customer experience.”

        If a computer ordered on line has a 5-day delivery lead time, the customer does not care when the assembly of this computer is scheduled within a 2-hour window. It does not affect customer experience. On the other hand, heijunka sequencing within the 2-hour window makes a difference in the kitting lines that feed assembly. They didn’t care, because, to them, the kitting lines were just a supplier, and just expected to provide whatever they were asked for.

  6. Comment in the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn:

    @Michel… Sakichi Toyoda’s aim was to make Japan self-sufficient in cloth. After seeing his mother having to undo large amounts of cloth in order to repair a hole caused by a broken thread, he developed and patented his idea of ‘automated’ detection of thread breakage. This became the foundation of Jidoka.

    What Toyoda-san realised was that this change allowed his mother to make more cloth. At the time Japan was dependent on imported cloth that made all clothing expensive. He therefore argued that if he could come up with more ideas he could increase cloth productivity to the point where prices would compete with imports, and cloth would be cheaper.

    He made this his life’s work. He formed and bankrupt three companies in his relentless pursuit of his aim. By the late 1920s he had factories running where one man ran 40 looms, and an experimental factory where one man was running 60 looms. By his single-minded (some would say bloody-minded; he was apparently not a nice man to know!) determination he brought Japan not just to a position of self-sufficiency, but net exporter of cloth.

    So no, he would never have had a focus group and no, he did not have a customer-focused philosophy. Nonetheless, his relentless pursuit of right-first-time through spotting errors at root cause also made him realise something else – if the machine would stop when there was an error, the operator could trust it to work on its own, no one needed to be there to spot a hole in the cloth as his mother had. That is why his Jidoka principle has two elements – stop and notify; separate man from machine.

    In the 1930s, realising that loom machinery was not going to make as much money as the coming technology of the automobile, he sold all his machinery and patents to Platt Brothers in Lancashire, England. The proceeds he gave to his son and told him to make automobiles.

    In 1949, following the near-bankruptcy of Toyota Motors, they tried to lay off staff. Under Union pressure they did lay some off but not enough under their agreement with the Union. Also, they agreed that all left had a job for life. Eiji Toyoda and Taichi Ohno agreed that the only way they could survive was to liberate the cash tied up in their huge inventory. In order to do that, Ohno worked on his one-piece flow and supermarket systems. The mantra was that the customer set demand so that they only stocked what had been used, and drove their inventory down and their cash up.

    That is what Sid means, and that is why it remains their principle. Everything stems from that. It has nothing to do with what the customer wants in their product (delight, eh Sid?!!) and everything to do with demand for that product. It post-dates the Toyoda Loom Works (Sakichi’s final company) who never used the Flow pillar of TPS. What TPS inherited, and arguably its key principle for making money, was Jidoka – the principle of 100% inspection at the source of error that Sakichi Toyoda discovered by watching his mother weave yarn.

    • I am sure you know Sid better than I do, but I am just going by his words, and I am sure he can speak for himself if I misunderstood him.

      Your account of jidoka is all about the detection of thread breakage. But equally important were the transitions from manual to powered looms and automatic shuttle change. Draper in the US had been trying to automatically change bobbins within shuttles while the shuttles moved, which sounds extraordinarily difficult. One idea of Sakichi Toyoda was to switch whole shuttles rather than bobbins, which was much easier and was a key feature of his Type G loom.

      If Toyota’s jidoka is “automation with a human touch,” we must not forget that it is an approach to automation. Preparing shuttles while the loom is running also sounds like a precursor to methods used in SMED.

      But you seem to agree that Jidoka is different from JIT and that TPS needs both. Sid was presenting Lean is identical to JIT, with Jidoka left out.

  7. My observations are that lean or whatever you want call it is a system that has both human and technical components. Many management people don’t understand how work gets done or doesn’t get done, period, some basic industrial engineering concepts and visual management techniques. They certainly don’t understand the power of lean systems to provide important feedback on processes. Yes, there is a cultural component to this, but the main obstacles seem to be a lack of curiosity, interest and willingness to really experiment or employ the scientific method. I would say that these elements constitute major impediments to progress. Another hypothesis that I am contemplating is that working with lean concepts taxes both sides of our brain and this is difficult for most people. Having team members who can work in all of these areas, both technical and human, certainly can help, but everyone has to understand the basic elements of the system.

  8. Comment in the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn:

    I want to thank everyone for making this such an interesting discussion. I would like to clarify a few points:

    1. Taiichi Ohno created a very powerful methodology called “Go to the Gemba or Go and See.” He wanted you to learn how to see differently and learn to look at the “facts.” A variation of this is to benchmark yourself against the very best and you can do this by visiting the best. I have been to Japan 81 times and visited around 300 plants. I am going back in April – please come with me and see how Toyota and other top suppliers conduct JIT – see with you own eyes and ask top managers those pertinent questions.
    2. A number of people refrain from “copying” Toyota based on all of the recalls. But literally every manufacturer, surely, all auto manufacturers have had vast number of recalls. Just this week BMW recalled over 500,000 cars for a chain problem. Of course, they do not want to have recalls but as yet even Toyota’s great production system is not able to catch everything. Many of the causes of the recalls are not detected until the automobiles have run been run thousands of miles in multitude of environmental conditions. I don’t think Toyota’s recalls are any reflection on the importance of learning and implementing JIT.
      Boeing can’t fly their new 787 because of a battery problem doesn’t mean that we should not emulate Boeing when building planes. Just today, “The Pentagon said on Friday that it had grounded all of its stealthy new F-35 fighter jets after an inspection found a crack in a turbine blade in the engine of one of the planes.” Unfortunately, problems keep occurring. We should notice these problems and learn from them but we never should use them as an excuse not to move forward.
    3. JIT is simply changing from the old batch mode of production to one-piece-flow. I bought a Buick back in 1980 and waited 13 weeks to get the car while Toyota at that time was able to build and deliver a car in only one week. Toyota changed the old “push” Ford System to the modern “Pull” system. JIT is the most efficient way to manufacture products at this time
    4. Standard work or standardized work is studying the best way to do something and getting everyone to copy and perform exactly that best way. Copying is necessary. If Toyota is the best and TPS is the best system then we should copy it 100% until it works well for us then we can improve it. Not to copy the best is crazy. I believe our problem is that we pick and choose those tools we understand and leave the rest. It is like building a house without a foundation.
    5. I visited Autoliv a few years back, winner of the Shingo Prize, and an amazing JIT company. They worked with a sensei called Takashi Harada, the very same name of the master I am currently working with. This former Harada had a series of pages, each page represented one important tool or aspect of TPS. He taught one tool at a time over a period of a year or so. He taught a tool – Autoliv applied it and when he came the next month he examined there efforts and taught the next tool until Autoliv had perfected the totality of JIT. Almost nothing was missed. You can visit Autoliv to see for yourself. Come to Portland State University and take my class and you can learn all of the tools.
    6. The later Takashi Harada was a sport’s coach and took the worst school in Osaka in track and field and guided them to be the best out of 380 schools. He now teaches the Harada Method to industry. This method was rated as the world’s best to develop people to their fullest. To me and many others in America the Harada Method gives you Toyota’s second pillar “Respect for People.”


    Norman Bodek

  9. Comment in the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn:

    I worked for Toyota/Toyota supplier/Toyota subsidiariy for 20 years in Manufacturing and Training capacities, so I may have seen a thing or two about TPS & Lean. I am now a Lean Consultant/Trainer in CA and have always defined Kaizen as “Simple, Quick and Inexpensive”. It’s not easy as it requires a lot of infrastructure but it’s quite “simple”. As an ex-manufacturer, I can tell you with complete honesty that ALL Lean concepts were quite simple, be it Jidoka or anything else. Implementing & Sustaining those concepts were different story, though. We had over 15 different nationalities in our company and one of strengths always was getting the projects done through people and then sustain them. That’s something that we were quite good at and very proud of.

    As a result, even now, our strong suit is implementation of the knowledge that we have acquired, not the knowledge itself, as anyone with access to Internet or a Library can equally acquire that!

    • Comment in the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn:

      I fully agree, there is not one single cultural or process element of lean that is not simple. They are absolutely simple, perhaps that is why they have the potential in any process where they are applied completely and together, to make significant differences for employees, customers, and shareholders.

      What is hard is actually implementing the simple lean elements. It is hard to transform the way leaders and people work after so many years of habits, it is hard to create the discipline for leaders and operators to follow standard work all of the time, it is hard to get leaders and value providers to spend less time on fire fighting and more time on problem solving and continuous improvement, it is hard to implement and get people to use new tools, processes and methods, it is hard to make work flow continuously to a takt in units of one, it is hard to get folks to continuously pull work through verse push it through, and so on and so on.

      I think it is one of the ironies of professional life, perhaps personal life as well, that it is actually relatively easy to design a complex process, yet it is very hard to develop a simple one. It is relatively easy to design a complex product, it is very hard to design a simple one. It is relatively easy to create distant and fractured, poor communication relationships with many people, it is very hard to develop a myriad of relationships based on respect.

      By the way, does lean work, of course it does. +90% of lean transformation efforts actually fail however, but they fail not because lean principles and practices are complicated and hard, they fail because changing to them and sustaining them is

      Making the complex simple is hard. For those with enough patience, perseverence and determination to do so, rich rewards lie on the other side.

    • As you know, I admire the work you did at Injex and yes, each component of the production system was simple, like all the components of a rocket are simple, but the system as a whole was anything but.

      Your door panel assembly cells looked simple, but producing and delivering just in sequence a million door panels to NUMMI without a single defective is not an achievement anyone would describe as simple. It took you 20 years to get there.

      Any tool or method that is used by people has to be both simple enough to be understood by its users and sophisticated enough to work. When you see TPS working, it looks simple and is easily underestimated.

      Toyota’s Global Body Line (GBL) is designed to support both robotic welding in high volume and manual welding in low volume. It is an idea anyone can understand. How do you make that work? You need fixtures that hold the body parts from the inside, which required an improvement in stamping accuracy…

  10. Comment in the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn:

    You are right Sakichi Toyoda did not spend his time thinking how to give the customer what they wanted, in the quantity they want, when they want it. He was an inventive genius and spent his time on technical issues. It was his son Kiichiro the founder of Toyota Motors who formulated this thinking. He had the conceprt of manufacturing just in time from Toyota’s earliest days. I would have thought you would know that Michel.
    It was Kiichiro Toyoda’s goal to manufacture products Just In Time, (produce what the customer wants, in the quantity they want, when they want it) combined with his ambition in the early 1950’s for Toyota to match the big three American auto makers in productivity that led to the development of the tools, techniques and attitudes that became TPS. Anyone wishing to understand lean thinking must understand its origins in JIT manufacturing.
    Jidoka is normaly translated as autonomation not automation. Autonomation means automation with a human touch’
    As you said this and JIT are the two main pillars of the Toyota system. On most diagrams I have seen in Japan respect for people is normally shown between the two pillars.
    Your comment that not many people know about Toyota’s tools and techniques is a little unkind. There are thousands of consultants and courses conducted with hundreds of books published on TPS every year. Most of the tools and techniques have been in the public domain for many decades. Shingo’s green book, my own introduction to TPS, was published in 1981. We all have Norman Bodek to thank for publishing most of the original Japanese source books
    The methodologies and technologies are well known, if not understood. What I have been stressing is that the missing dimension is peopleology. It is the combination of all three ‘ologies’ that makes TPS work so well at Toyota. It is also the reason it fails at companies who do not achieve this balanced combination.
    Your comment that Henry Ford ‘had some good bits on assembly line concepts’ is absurd. He is considered by most knowledgeable people, the Toyoda’s included, as the father of mass production. Frowned upon today, but what the World needed in the early 1900’s. I was trained as an industrial engineer in the 1950/60’s and Ford was one of our models. To call him a bad judge of character because he admired Hitler, and disqualify him on this topic is not to understand his times. Hitler (evil monster that he was) was Time Magazine’s man of the year 1938.
    Jack Welch was voted business man of the 20th century, and to dismiss what he says because his actions did not always match his words, does not seem very sensible. I think the wisdom a person’s words should be judge in their own right.

    I will ignore your final paragraph as unworthy of comment. It shows an arrogance that is breathtaking. Your comments suggest you put yourself in the Chopin class and most other people in the chopsticks one.

    • Jidoka is actually an untranslatable pun, because the Toyota version is pronounced exactly like the standard word for automation, but written with a slightly different Kanji in the middle. The Toyota version is 自働化, literally “transformation into something that WORKS by itself”; the standard version is 自動化 or “transformation into something that MOVES by itself.” Autonomation is an OK approximation of this nuance, but automation with a human touch is still automation. It results in machines doing more of the work and people doing less of it, and it changes the nature of the work people do.

      I would like to read your 1981 introduction to TPS. If you send it to me, I will happily send you one of my books in exchange, if you are interested.

      There is a rich literature on the technical and managerial content of TPS in Japanese, but not in English. Norman Bodek deserves great credit for getting a few classics translated. Last time I checked at the large bookstore across from the train station in Kitakyushu, there were several hundred titles on a whole host of manufacturing topics. In the US, the few books that exist on these topics do not sell well, as you can see by checking their Amazon rankings.

      All the peopleology in the world cannot compensate for not knowing the technical content, and vice versa.

      The expression “the good bits” is an understatement, borrowed from you. The term “mass production” was coined to designate the Ford system, so it is hardly surprising that Henry Ford should be viewed as its father. There were plenty of people in the 1930s who saw quite clearly who the Nazis were. Winston Churchill for example? If Henry Ford’s fondness for Nazis does not disqualify him on people issues, I wonder what would.

      To speak positively, I value people who do what they say, particularly when they make recommendations to others.

      As for the last paragraph, it says nothing about me.

  11. Have you ever worked on the shop floor and asked anybody how they felt about lean? Lean ruins companies, causes very bad morale, makes employees work a lot harder for the same pay. Making everything standard sounds good if we were all robots what’s easy for you might not be easy for me standard doesn’t work period.

    • It seems you have had a bad experience with L.A.M.E. (“Lean As Mistakenly Implemented”) rather than Lean. There is more to Lean than standards, and doing the same task the same way every time is a requirement of all manufacturing, Lean or not.

  12. Lean production is not new it is the cutting edge of capitalism today. The heart of lean production is re organizing work to cut cost. Management says it wants workers input, what their really looking for is more output! “TO get more work out of fewer people” from management’s point of view lean production is eliminating waste, getting rid of “excess” activities, materials, and workers. The only problem is, their definition of “waste” includes most things that make work life bearable, like breaks, or a reasonable pace, or a set work schedule, or decent paycheck, or job security. To get the greatest bang for the buck lean production stresses workers to the limits of their capacities through. .._speed-up, plain and simple – just work faster, or do more jobs, or do the same with fewer people.#2 DeSkilling – break the jobs down so they take little time to learn. This saves money because higher paid skilled workers can be replaced with lower paid unskilled workers. #3 Multi – skill ing – really multi-tasking. Doing more jobs, usually of the unskilled variety. 4 Contracting out or privatization of work previously done by unionize workers.#5 use of temporaries, part timers and contract workers.#6 more flexibility for management in setting hours and tasks.#7 cracking down on absenteeism and eliminating replacements for people who are absent or retired. THAT’S definitely not a morale booster.

    • Where exactly are you getting your information?

      Just about every statement you make contradicts what I have seen in factories that truly implement Lean, and is certainly not consistent with the recommendations I make to clients.

      Lean Manufacturing is a departure from the previous model, Mass Production, and it is not about cutting costs but about building organizations that can be competitive in the long run. You may get a short term boost out of “just making people work faster,” but it does not build for the next ten years. Instead, it creates high employee turnover and an organization that is unable to improve.

      Hand-carrying a car battery 30 feet every minute from a pallet to a car, as is common in mass production plants, is not an activity that makes “work life bearable.” Instead, it is a genuine waste of human effort, that is eliminated by presenting the battery to the operator 3 feet away from the car. This is the sort of improvement that Lean is about, not “stressing workers to the limits of their capacities” but working at a steady, sustainable pace.

      Breaks were introduced into the work day about 100 years ago, not to make life more pleasant but because they enhanced overall productivity. Lean does not eliminate breaks.

      “Breaking the jobs down so they take little time to learn” is not Lean but basic division of labor thinking from 250 years ago and industrial engineering from 100 years ago. The Lean approach is to enrich the jobs and rotate operators so that they develop more skills and become more valuable resources. An operator who has been doing the same work at the same station for 15 years is more vulnerable to changes than one who has been given the opportunity to learn 10 different jobs.

      The outsourcers are the executives who said “We’ll skip Lean and go straight to China”; the Lean implementers, instead, are working to maintain and expand local jobs.

      The use of temps, within reason, is a legitimate way to provide some flexibility in the amount of labor needed while providing job security for permanent employees. You don’t want to have a majority of temps, for the same reason you don’t want employee turnover.

      In Lean operator teams, the leader is one who knows all the jobs performed by the team and has a lighter routine work load than the other team members, so that he can give them a hand as needed.

    • I am in total agreement. I Can’t Count The Companies I’ve Seen Doing this, Overworking Staff Constant Overtime Every Single Order Is A Fire Drill Because Of The We Don’t Make It Until You Order it. I’ve said no thank you to many of these companies when seeking work and moved on to a better one high turnover and employees who are only there because they have to pay the bills and hate their jobs is what you will get

  13. I got my information from a website called solidarity.com everything it says is one hundred percent accurate. At least at my job maybe you should come and teach them the proper way cause they are failing miserably. I have answered several questions for you now I’m curious have you worked on a shop floor before or have you always been office or management or a consultant. And if you have worked on the shop floor how long ago was it. The reason I ask is lean means something different to shop employees then management or consultants of lean everybody that teaches lean seems to be blind about what its really doing to the shop employees or grunts which is what management thinks of us as. Ever thing I put in my last post is happening at my job. These plants that you visited are they in the us and if so name some of them so I can talk to some of the shop employees and ask them how lean is treating them how much more work there doing. And if they are now worried about their jobs because of it. Just because you move a production line closer together doesn’t necessarily make it easier for the employees. In my case the line is to close now ever body runs into each other not enough space and it doesn’t make things faster it’s just a cluster lean sounds good on paper but in reality it’s hurting the company

    • This is your third comment, and the first in which you say anything about your personal experience. By comparison, I am an open book. If you want to know about me, you can start with the About page of this blog. Regarding my current work, you can check out Using videos to improve operations | Part 7. It is about a joint project with my partners in Spain where we were looking for — and found — ways for assembly operators in an auto parts plant to work at a more sustainable pace while keeping up with demand.

      I understand this is not the sort of thing that is happening where you work, and you have my sympathy. I would love to help, but I go where I am invited, and the invitations come from management. I understand that you feel your managers have no respect for you. I don’t know them, but I am willing to bet that many of them are simply afraid of the shop floor. the fact is that you have to face its music if you want to do anything in manufacturing, as effective managers, and consultants, do.

      There is more to designing a production line than laying out the equipment. You also have to work with operators to design the jobs and choreograph them so that they don’t interfere with each other. This is the object of what is known as Standard Work,” a name I don’t particularly like because it’s not descriptive.

  14. I currently work in a LEAN environment which has also now implemented Lean Management System. It is the worst possible environment i have ever worked in. Team morale has tanked and we are asked to submit continuous improvement ideas constantly but do the same amount of work. Turnover has increased and we cannot retain Talent. For what it’s worth, my company is not a manufacturing business. NEVER EVER apply these fundamentals to a customer service business. I am watching my company unravel daily due to your beloved LEAN. (Lousy Example of Aimless Necessities)

  15. This thread is quite amazing to me. I’m a bottom line driven engineer and will embrace anything that translates to getting the work done and adding to the profit. I would say my frame work of thinking seems straight forward to me.

    Customers pay for my goods so they must be kept happy, recalls and defects are bad no matter how you view them and people are inherently good, honest and keen to do their best. These points are mentioned here and yet are not absolute indicators of Lean or other methodologies actually working. So really what is the point of them all?

    Managing people properly seems all that is needed to me. That includes listening and engaging them with straight forward talking. Employing people and putting them into a production environment will give you feedback every day if you talk to them. If items are not to hand at the right time they will tell you, if you talk to them like people; that is respectfully. I can’t see any situation where this wouldn’t work.

    Treat them disrespectfully and never talk to them and you have much more than Lean, 5S, 8D, Fishbone etc. to worry about. My belief is train and retain, simple.

    I recently had an interview at a very high profile Tier-1 automotive supplier that has TPS in its veins. 3 hours I sat through mantras of reporting this and that, 5S, A3 and goodness knows what else. After which a tour was done and one machine had spent all night with its fancy robots making rejected product and no one knew.

    I asked don’t you QC and the answer was yes at shift changeover. Seriously I could not believe my ears, a night’s production scrapped. If you look at it statistically what are the chances of me walking into that company that has been around 20 years and seeing that kind of reject level?
    You could be right in thinking it happens quite a lot and watching the machines run I’m guessing it did, lots of little things were wrong.

    And no the equipment was not old junk, it was top quality and modern. Just maybe if they had got engaged and were encouraged to do their actual job things would be better; it’s a possibility.

    I come from a place untouched by these named methodologies and in a year we would typically have 2 customer complaints from a total of around 360 million units made and around 6 in-house product holds of small numbers made over 3 to 4 hours maximum which would be 8 to 16 thousand units.

    I’m not saying these techniques have no merit but they appear to be adopted as a one size fits all and as an alternative to good managerial practices. And can I ask why recalls cannot be a KPI of all these methodologies, from January 1992 to December 2005 there were 47 UK recalls for Toyota and from January 2006 to August 2016 there were 521.

    If I was following a system that showed these results, and bear in mind these are only the really serious reportable safety recalls, I would be looking for another system pretty sharp.
    I have read plenty about it so what is it about Lean that I am missing, because all I see in this thread is excuses for why it doesn’t work when it should, plus the full on negativity to it which I don’t buy either.

    Although I must concur with some comments in that I have Nevers seen a Lean place that is also a happy one, but for all I know there may be one out there.

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