Lean’s Midlife Crisis | Bob Emiliani

“It seems to be common knowledge that the Lean movement is now suffering from a midlife crisis. Lean movement leaders are perplexed at the widespread continuing emphasis on Lean tools, narrow focus on cost cutting, and the slow uptake of the “Respect for People” principle over the last 15 years. This is the outcome, despite determined efforts to inform people otherwise. I’m not surprised.”

Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.bobemiliani.com


Michel Baudin‘s comments:

While I agree with Bob’s overall diagnosis of a midlife crisis for Lean, I object to a few details, the main one being his assertion that Lean descends directly from “Scientific Management,” the brand under which Frederick Taylor sold his consulting services.

As many do, Bob mentions Taylor and Gilbreth together, as if they were from the same school of thought, when in fact their approaches to people at work were polar opposites. While Taylor’s explicit goal was to prevent workers from colluding to curtail output, Gilbreth’s was to improve operations and make the work easier, based on films rather than just stopwatch time studies. It wasn’t about policing bricklayers, but about presenting bricks at the right height so that they wouldn’t have to stoop to pick up each one.

The TPS/Lean approach to the design of individual workstations strikes me as in line with Gilbreth, not Taylor. And the all important flow dimension of TPS comes from neither. For external sources of inspiration, you need to look at Ford’s mass production in the US and Junker’s Taktsystem in the German aircraft industry.

For a set ideas once arrayed as an all-encompassing approach or theory to be subsumed into common industry practice is not necessarily failure. Today, nobody explicitly references interchangeable parts technology — known 150 years ago as the American system of manufacture — not because it has failed but because it has become the standard way to design products and processes.

Also, while Taylor’s approach to workers has been largely abandoned, his functional foremanship concept has provided the basis for the list of support departments found today in almost every manufacturing organization, if not for the way they are managed.

If that were the future fate of Lean, it would be a success. If, however, the Lean label overwhelmingly continues to cover the diluted and distorted version of TPS that Bob calls “fake Lean,” it is unlikely to happen.

And 1988 is only the start of the Lean label. TPS-inspired improvement efforts had been underway for years already under names like JIT or World-Class Manufacturing. My own first exposure to the concepts dates back to 1980, and my first consulting gig in the field, to 1987.


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10 comments on “Lean’s Midlife Crisis | Bob Emiliani

  1. Michel – “Colluding to curtail output” was not Taylor’s singular focus, as you imply. Taylor’s approach to workers is described in The Spirit and Social Significance of Scientific Management (1913) , and in his 1912 testimony to the U.S. Congress: “It ceases to be scientific management the moment it is used for bad.” Taylor meant bad for workers; bad from the worker’s perspective. When managers applied SM in ways that were bad for worker, Taylor said that what those managers did was no longer SM. Read the testimony.

    Also, Taylor and his followers were unsuccessful as consultants because they offered the Scientific Management SYSTEM (“betterment” + “cooperation”); REAL Scientific Management. The consultants who were successful were the ones that sold FAKE Scientific Management PARTS (tools for “betterment”).

    Gilbreth and Taylor were from the same time and from complementary schools of thought. See the book Primer of Scientific Management by F.B. Gilbreth:

    I did not say flow came from Taylor and Gilbreth. This came from other people,as you note, as well as Frank G. Woollard in the U.K. (flow in processes upstream of moving assembly, ca. 1922).

    Correct, I picked 1988 at the start only because that’s when the name “Lean” entered the lexicon. It obviously was not the starting point, as we all know.

    • In his magnum opus, Shop Management, Taylor called the collusion of workers to curtail output “soldiering” and undertakes to eliminate it by setting standards through time studies and providing an incentive for each individual to exceed these standards by paying them “differential piece rates,” flow be damned.

      He takes pride in getting one worker to hand-carry 37t of ingots in one day, arguing that it is good for him because of all the money he made. Based on what I have seen of Gilbreth’s films, his approach would have been to invent a way to eliminate the hand-carrying of ingots.

      Taylor’s work on high-speed machining shows him as a brilliant engineer; his work on management, as having low expectations of people and much respect for their humanity.

  2. Hi Michel – You’re thinking about Taylor with the benefit of hindsight. You likely would not have done any different or any better if you were him at that time. Increasing the hand-carrying productivity of cheap labor would have appealed to you just as it would to anyone else in those days (and even now).

    Hey, by the way, someone (called “tender” and “hoddie”) put the bricks by hand on a “hod” or “packet” to present to the bricklayer according to a standard, right? 445 bricks per ton x 6 tons of bricks per day with Gilbreth’s new system compared to 2 tons per day the old way.

    “…having low expectations of people and much respect for their humanity.” You’re just wrong about that. Read “The Spirit and Social Significance of Scientific Management” (1913), Taylor’s testimony to Congress, or, better yet, “Evolution of the “Respect for People” Principle in Progressive Management

    We have to meet some day so we can have these conversations in person 🙂

    • I give more weight to Shop Management than to his testimony to congress. In the former, he was freely explaining his ideas in his own words; in the latter, he was spinning them in front of an audience that was neither well informed nor friendly. And I am not making far-fetched inferences. Instead, I am quoting him almost verbatim.

      When I first read Shop Management, I was struck by the word “soldiering,” which I had to look up. I was struck by other things as well. When he discusses how to infer times for short tasks from easier measurements on sequences of such tasks, he explains that the sequence length and the total number of small tasks must be relatively prime. It’s a level of understanding of number theory that I didn’t expect from him.

      Had I been in Taylor’s shoes 120 years ago, would I have done anything different? I have no idea. Gilbreth was only one generation younger than Taylor, and his films make it clear that he thought about these issues quite differently.

      I don’t mean to belittle Taylor’s contributions, but you single him out as a precursor to Lean. I just don’t see it.

      And yes, we should have these conversations in person, when our respective travels allow it.

  3. One fine point… It is not appropriate to characterize Taylor’s 1903 paper “Shop Management” as his magnum opus. Taylor and Scientific Management were unknown to the U.S. public until 1910, the Eastern Rate Case, and 1911, publication of the book The Principles of Scientific Management. This book was translated into several languages, and would rightly, therefore, be considered as his magnum opus as this is what earned him world-wide fame. Translation of “Shop Management” and earlier works to several other languages followed after Taylor became famous worldwide.

    As far as a precursor to Lean, the means by which flow was achieved at Toyota (and at Morris Motors before that) was the application of industrial engineering (IE) methods borne of Taylor and Gilbreth. IE methods, as you know, form the basis of Toyota kaizen. That is why I say that Scientific Management, the precursor to industrial engineering, is part of the direct lineage of Lean (TPS). Again, as you know, Shigeo Shingo taught IE methods to Toyota engineers from the mid-1950s to min-1970s. So the mark of Taylor and Gilbreth is definitely embedded in TPS (and Lean if both are assumed to be the same – but that’s another story).

    I welcome your view on this. Thanks.

    • To be completely clear on my sources, the book I have in front of my is a collection of Taylor’s works called Scientific Management, reprinted by Greenwood Press in 1972, including Shop Management (207 pages), The Principles of Scientific Management (144 pages), and Testimony Before the Special House Committee (287 pages).

      Shop Management is described as having been published in 1911, based on a 1903 paper. Even in The Principles of Scientific Management, I found him saying the following:

      • “[…] the greatest prosperity can exist only as the result of the greatest productivity on the men and machines of the establishment — that is, when each man and each machine are turning out the largest possible output.” (p.12) In other words, flow be damned.
      • “Underworking, that is, deliberately working slowly so as to avoid a full day’s work, “soldiering,”[…] is almost universal in industrial establishments, […] and the writer asserts without fear of contradiction that this constitutes the greatest evil with which the working people of England and America are now afflicted.” (pp.13-14)

      I rest my case.

  4. I am, of course, familiar with these words and the problems cited. They both were common for the times (the second bullet remains with us today) and do not make your case.

    1) It was a sellers’ market in those years, so the focus, sensibly enough, was on producing the largest possible output. Others, such as Brandeis, said that Scientific Management would be even better for buyers’ markets, which did eventually emerge in later decades.

    Context matters with respect to your criticisms, and it must not be avoided.

    2) To understand Frederick Winslow Taylor and Scientific Management, one must read works by (mechanical) engineers that preceded Taylor (e.g. Henry Towne). In addition to reading Taylor’s original works, one must also read the works by his contemporaries (mainly business persons and consultants, plus a few academics). This includes Cooke, Gilbreth, Bertrand, Farquhar, Barth, Drury, Copley, Person, Gantt, Dodge, Kendall, Hathaway, and so on, as well as the works by industrial engineers that followed them (principally in the 1930-1940 time frame).

    This provides a broader picture of the origins and evolutionary development of Scientific Management from around 1870 to the years immediately prior to World War II. Taylor’s views towards workers become more brightly illuminated and are more substantive and humane than people realize from reading only 2 or 3 of Taylor’s works. And, the linkages between Scientific Management, industrial engineering, Toyota’s production system, and kaizen become crystal clear.

    I await your quotes from his testimony to Congress. One such quote is: “Is ceases to be scientific management the moment it is used for bad.”

  5. Yes, context matters, and the context that matters most is today’s. Whatever Taylor meant with his fighting words 100 years ago, today’s production operators in the US and Europe associate “taylorism” with nothing but management attempts to squeeze more work out of them, and their first reaction to the idea of a time study is mutiny or sabotage.

    Before actually studying operations with video recordings to improve them in collaboration with the operators and in the spirit of Gilbreth, I have had to spend months explaining what it’s about and exorcising the ghost of Taylor. He may have said to a congressional committee that it was meant to help workers as well as companies but, when you want to implement Lean today, his legacy is something you need to overcome, not wrap yourself into.

    Whether you are in a seller’s or a buyer’s market, making every piece of equipment work at full capacity — whether it is a machining center or a simple drill press or an office printer — makes no sense from a flow point of view. Machine capacity can never be perfectly balanced, and you have to stop anyway once all your warehouses are full of WIP.

    Thanks for the reading list. Other than Gilbreth and Gantt, I have not heard of these authors. Bryan Lund and Mark Warren have pointed out various contemporary sources, but not the same ones.

  6. I agree with what you say: “…when you want to implement Lean today, his legacy is something you need to overcome…” The negative association runs deep, unfortunately, and is a definitely a liability for Lean.

    I possess almost the entire collection of books written in that period and have read them all (about 60 books). The literature written by the originals is fascinating and is consistent with Taylor’s testimony to Congress (which, by the way, was given under oath). Unfortunately, I know of no contemporary source that accurately portrays Taylor’s work. They all fall under the spell of various misconceptions and misunderstandings, and invariably omit the evolution in thinking and practice of Scientific Management in the years after Taylor’s death.

    Like the existence of what I termed “Real Lean” and “Fake Lean,” there was a fight circa 1910-1935 about Real and Fake versions of Scientific Management; the “real” part being the system, in its entirety, and the fake part being consultants selling the parts. The latter were far more successful than the former. The same is true today. “Fake” Lean sells.

    Thank you for your tolerance in these exchanges.

  7. Pingback: How is Lean Different From Taylorism? | Michael Ballé | LEI | Michel Baudin's Blog

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