Lean and clichés

RunnersHere we go again! An article about Lean in machine shops today leads off with “In an increasingly competitive marketplace…,” I just could not read further. Has anyone ever met a market that was not “increasingly competitive”? I don’t believe that one ever existed 100 years ago, today, or will 100 years from now. Given that all markets always are “increasingly competitive,” stating it  just wastes readers’ time, for which there is ever increasing competition…

Karen Wilhelm’s Lean Reflections

This is the third of three contributions to John Hunter‘s Annual Management Blog Review.

It is about Karen Wilhelm’s Lean Reflections, which needs to be said because there is another blog by the same name. Karen’s blog is at leanreflect.com; the other one, at leanreflections.com.

On the front page, Karen promotes herself as follows: “Need impeccable, clear, fact-checked web or print content that gets lean concepts right? Talk to me.” I got to know Karen more than 15 years ago, when she was the editor of the SME’s Lean Directions newsletter, and I have to agree that every claim she makes is true. When I wrote articles for her newsletter, she helped me improve them, and I have been regularly reading hers, with the confidence that I would learn something, that the information would be accurate, and that it would be clear and easy to follow.

Karen Wilhelm differs from the other Lean bloggers in that she is a professional writer and editor who knows about Lean, rather than a Lean professional who writes. She is not selling anything other than her ability to report on what others are doing, and she does not make recommendations or put forward opinions. So you read her for the  facts, not for guidance on what to think. And her blog is easy to search.

Clocking in at about 2 posts/month, Karen is not the most prolific blogger, but her output has been steady since 2005. While the last two posts, about a squirrel in her attic and the tracing of her iPad mini’s world travels may make you think “slow news day,” you find plenty of red meat in her archives, often about topics that are not well documented elsewhere, like Toyota’s shop floor safety policies and practices, or the meaning of Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Gemba Panta Rei

This is the second of three contributions to John Hunter‘s Annual Management Blog Review.

You just heard a consultant use a Japanese term you are not familiar with, say “Kamishibai” or “Yokoten,” and you google it in search of its meaning. More often than not, the clearest, most detailed explanation comes up in the form of a post in Jon Miller’s Gemba Panta Rei blog. I have been a fan of his writings ever since I noticed this. Jon was born and raised in Japan, and attended Japanese schools as a child; as a result, he is fully bicultural with the US, which gives him a unique perspective on Lean and the Toyota Production System.

Advertised on the home page is Jon’s remarkable translation of Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management. As Jon explains in his introduction, “Our philosophy was to translate both Ohno’s meaning and style, and sacrifice neither of these to polish the English expression. […] In the process of translation and editing, our goal was to cut out nothing, and add as little as possible in order to maintain the flow of Ohno’s speech and thought.” I agree, and tried to work the same way when translating Pascal Dennis’s Getting the Right Things Done into French. Ohno’s language is vivid and laced with untranslatable puns. Rather than omitting the plays on words or looking for some, inevitably lame, English-language equivalent, Jon quotes the original and explains it in a footnote. The improved accuracy is well worth the breaks in the flow that this causes.

Oddly, the best information in Gamba Panta Rei is easier to find through Google than on the blog’s home page, where I couldn’t find a search box. After pulling down the Archives menu, I still couldn’t tell where I would find the posts about Kamishibai or Yokoten. Also, while the blog still has recent articles with substantive discussions of topics that Jon finds challenging or interesting, they are now commingled with a good 50% of material that is direct, commercial promotion of the Kaizen Institute, the company that acquired Jon’s original Gemba Research, and of which he is now the CEO. So, if you want Jon’s insights but not a sales pitch, google the topic.

The Lean Edge

John Hunter asked me to participate this year in his Annual Management Blog Review, and I agreed to review three blogs I follow, starting with The Lean Edge.  It is a blog with multiple authors, including some of the best writers about Lean. I enjoy reading posts from people like Art Smalley, Jeffrey Liker, or Pascal Dennis, to name a few, but I find the site busy and confusing.

On top of the home page is the question of the month: “Why has the Lean movement largely failed to capture the imagination of the sales team?” by Joel Stanwood, and it is followed by 10 answers that are on-topic. But then the next post is a repeat of the question and it is followed by posts that are unrelated to it, such as “Establish a daily pattern production schedule to sequence your presses,” by Peter Handlinger.

To understand the logic behind this, you tab over to the “About” page, according to which “The Lean EDGE is a platform for discussion between management thinkers and lean management writers. Lean authors give their responses to general management questions posed by guest writers. The aim of the discussion is to share different points of view and to collectively build a vision of lean management.”

San Francisco parking signIt is simple as a San Francisco parking sign (see left). It introduces four categories of participants: management thinkers, lean management writers, lean authors, and guest writers. When you go back to the Home page to see who is in these different categories, you find everybody lumped in a list called “Authors” on the left sidebar, alphabetized by first names, and including people who are business executives and not writers. You even find two entries that are not people at all, like “book announcement” and “event announcement.”

I did participate as an author for a while, but resigned in frustration. You are prompted to “Write a comment” on any post but you are not supposed to. If you want to write a comment, you have to submit as a new post, which goes against your conditioned reflex as a blog reader. And then you are supposed to respond only to the original question, not to another contributor’s post. So you put all these great authors together to “share different points of view,” but they may not debate each other.  It was like visiting Switzerland, where I always feel that everybody is watching me for breaking some rule I don’t know but everybody else does.

I think the root of the problem is that The Lean Edge is trying to do with WordPress something that it isn’t intended or well-suited for. To me, a blog is a conversation between one author and the world, and the ones I enjoy most have an unfettered, unique authorial voice. With multiple authors, it is not a blog but a forum. It works by different rules and needs different software platforms, such as LinkedIn Groups.

Still, I occasionally visit The Lean Edge because I am interested in what Peter Handlinger has to say about scheduling a press shop, or Orry Fiume about making field sales reps participate in Kaizen events.