Beware the Sirens of Management Pseudo-Science | HBR Blog | Freek Vermeulen

See on Scoop.itlean manufacturing

“…A common formula to create a best-selling business book is to start with a list of eye-catching companies that have been outperforming their peers for years. This has the added advantage of creating an aura of objectivity because the list is constructed using “objective, quantitative data.” Subsequently, the management thinker takes the list of superior companies and examines (usually in a rather less objective way) what these companies have in common. Surely — is the assumption and foregone conclusion — what these companies have in common must be a good thing, so let’s write a book about that and become rich…”

Michel Baudin‘s insight:

Bill Waddell branded the author of this article “The Naysayer Personified,” which prompted me to read it. Vermeulen’s first target it “In Search of Excellence,” a best seller from the 1980s that pointed out “excellent” companies that didn’ excel so much after the book came out. I had read it at the time, and had found it little more than a cheer-leading compilation of the public relations literature of the companies. So far, I agreed with Vermeulen.

Further on, he bashes as management fads not only Six Sigma, TQM, and ISO-9000 — no argument here — but also Lean. Ouch! This is my stock in trade, and I really should argue that Vermeulen doesn’t get it.

But my heart is not in it. Much has been done in the name of Lean by now that amounts to little more than slapping the label onto ideas that are unrelated to the Toyota Production System (TPS), and it hasn’t been particularly effective.

That is not what Lean is to me. I see it as the adaptation to other contexts of the principles that have made Toyota successful in the car business, involving in practice the selection and adaptation of relevant TPS tools, as well as the development of new ones. And I admit readily that it is not a panacea. There are plenty of human endeavors to which it does not apply, but what interests me is the ones to which it does.

When you want to discuss this now, just can’t just say “Lean,” you have to qualify it as “Lean Deep” or “True Lean,”  as opposed to “Lean Lite” or “Lean As Mistakenly Executed” (L.A.M.E.).

Could the same be said of the other approaches Vermeulen criticizes? To some extent, yes. Six Sigma and TQM, for example, are based on real contributions made in specialized areas, before their promoters went global cosmic.

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5 comments on “Beware the Sirens of Management Pseudo-Science | HBR Blog | Freek Vermeulen

    • Basic research, football coaching, landscape photography…

      In general, I think that the notion of an approach to building cars as applicable to everything is ludicrous. It has to be proven everywhere it is tried.

  1. Calling lean LAME, light, deep or true, is to argue it’s ok if you do it right and the people using the labels will mean ‘my way’. I recently read a book on lean in health by a supposed guru which claimed the book will tackle health as a system but it didn’t; it was the usual array of tools employed to solve problems management thought they had – the author even suggested people know what their problems are. I also just read ‘This is Lean’, promoted heavily, but another poor book: asserting that perfect is a combination of ‘resource efficiency’ with ‘flow efficiency’. Chalk and cheese, oil and water. Such a shame for the opening case study (a fiction in fact) was exactly what can be achieved, but the authors had no know-how on what to do to achieve it.
    I think we’d be better to get some knowledge about the reasons for failures. I see them every time we get a new client. In service organisations they exhibit no idea of what value looks like, thus often spend time ‘leaning’ non-value activity; they always start with standardising the work, which prevents the system from absorbing variety and they treat activity as cost. Three things that can only lead to higher costs.

    • As you can see from my original comments and my response to Renaud, I have never thought of Lean, whatever the term may cover, as a panacea.

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