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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