Lean’s Crazy Relatives | Jim Womack | Planet Lean [Review]


vw-assembly-line“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.

That we embrace precursors doesn’t mean that we follow them, but that what we do today is built on the useful parts of their legacies. For their contributions, Taylor and Ford have earned a place in the pantheon of Manufacturing, together with, among others:

And this just to mention a few Americans. Likewise, in other countries, you are better off acknowledging local forefathers like:

In addition, Taylor and Ford were so different from one another that they don’t really belong in a list together. Taylor was an individual thinker, capable of formulating theories based on his experience, and his contributions are not limited to time studies. He wrote his own books and never acted like a crazy relative.

Henry Ford, on the other hand, was an entrepreneur who built what was for over a decade the largest manufacturing organization on the planet, making more cars in the early 1920s than all of his worldwide competitors together. He worked through others and even his books were ghostwritten by Samuel Crowther. Ford was no intellectual, there is no evidence of any ability on his part to conceptualize what he did. After he had made his main contributions, by about 1920, he did become a “crazy relative,” signing  anti-semitic rants that are an embarrassment for his descendants to this day, and cozying up to Nazis.

Henry Ford receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle in 1938

Henry Ford receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle in 1938

Womack asserts that Ford was awarded medals by both Hitler and Stalin. There is a picture of him receiving a Nazi medal in 1938. Ford did build a plant to make Model As in the Soviet Union in 1929, but I couldn’t find any trace of Henry Ford receiving a medal from the Soviets. Womack’s article uses a shot of a Volkswagen assembly line in the early 1950s as a featured image. Yes, the Wolfsburg Volkswagen plant was inspired by the Ford River Rouge plant, but I am not sure what this has to do with Henry Ford being a crazy relative at a Lean family party.

Womack says that proponents of Lean suffer from being branded “taylorists” or “fordists,” but being branded a “toyotist” or any other kind of “-ist” is not much better, as it carries a connotation of closed-minded sectarian thinking. It is often used in politics but not in science. You don’t hear about “newtonism” or “einsteinism.” Sometimes you hear about “darwinism,” from people who want to downgrade evolution from established science to an opinion.

Womack starts his last paragraph with “The lean movement over 100 years…” As I recall, however, the word “Lean” was not in use in this context before 1989. Anything done before then was therefore a precursor.

#HenryFord, #FrederickTaylor, #JimWomack, #Lean

One comment on “Lean’s Crazy Relatives | Jim Womack | Planet Lean [Review]

  1. Hi Michel – Its is great that you included the names of the other important contributors. They and their innovative work deserve continued recognition and must never be forgotten. I agree that Lean/TPS should be “presented as a new chapter in an existing, familiar story [rather] than as an alien approach.” Womack’s last paragraph – “The lean movement over 100 years…” – implies Lean is both antecedent and descendant. Ridiculous.

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