What Went Wrong? (With Lean) | Bob Emiliani

Can Lean do a do-over? Nearly 30 years after the start of the Lean movement, there is widespread agreement that things have not gone according to plan.

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Michel Baudin‘s comments:

Bob’s title for the article is just “What Went Wrong?” which I feel needs to be set in context.

I agree with him that the most popular “Lean tools” are peripheral at best. None of the ones he mentions — 5S, visual controls, value stream maps A3 reports, or gemba walks — would make my list of what should be taught and applied first in a Lean manufacturing implementation. I would, on the other hand, include SMED, cell design, assembly line design based on takt time, etc.

These are the kind of tools I believe Bob means when he says “core industrial engineering methods,” the only problem being that you find them neither in the Industrial Engineering Handbook nor in the IE curriculum of most American universities. They have the look and feel of classical IE and should become part of it, but it hasn’t happened yet.
There is nothing wrong with starting with tools, as long as you don’t get stuck there. You have to move on from production engineering tools like the above, to tools for production control,  quality, maintenance, and other support activities; then on to rethinking the roles of managers until, finally, you get to a point where “the way we do things” — otherwise known as culture — has changed.

Bob’s paragraph about Kaizen confuses me in describing Kaizen as critical to teaching “Continuous Improvement and Respect for People.” I am used to thinking of Kaizen and Continuous Improvement as the same thing.

There is ambiguity in all these terms, along with, perhaps, deliberate mistranslation. Toyota is under no obligation to teach its system to the rest of the world. It’s good public relations to appear to be doing it, but they don’t have to do it so deeply and accurately that other organizations can actually apply it, especially when their representatives are so quick to conclude that they get it, that it’s nothing but common sense, or that there is nothing in it that our IEs haven’t figured out 100 years ago.

At Toyota, even though Kaizen is translated as continuous improvement, “continuous” is taken to mean “all the time.” As Kei Abe put it, you start improving when you first open the plant and don’t stop until you close it down. In this sense, improvements large and small all fall under the umbrella of Kaizen.

Outside of Toyota, to authors like Tozawa Bunji or Masaaki Imai, Kaizen (改善) designates small, incremental improvements to the way the work is done, designed and implemented by those who do the work. They also translate it as continuous improvement,  as opposed to massive change, or reform, known as Kaikaku (改革).

Outside of Japan and of Japanese transplant facilities, since the invention of the Kaizen Blitz/Kaizen Event in the US in the 1990s, the word Kaizen has been used to designate the kind of improvements that can be accomplished in 5-day workshops, or even to designate the events themselves, as in “We’ve done 100 Kaizens this year.”

And “Respect for People,”  as needs repeating, is a mistranslation. The actual principle is “Respect for Humanity,” and it does not mean being polite but taking advantage of all the abilities that are special to humans, including not just dexterity and strength but also cognition and creation. And the motivation is that, otherwise, you are competing with one hand tied behind your back.

Bob and I also have different perspectives on the so-called “Scientific Management,” but that was our previous conversation.









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