The Battle for the Soul of Lean | Michael Ballé | The Lean Post

Michael Ballé: “I’ve been a student of lean for 25 years, and the more that I learn the more I believe that […] lean is a profoundly disruptive way of working. From the time that this new approach was popularized decades ago, there have been two completely different ways to look at the same tools, materials, and stories. Some of us saw Toyota as a disrupter, a small bankrupt company that became the dominant automaker in a saturated market ruled by U.S. corporate giants, by doing something radically different. Others, however, were fascinated by Toyota’s ‘operational excellence’ as a means of safe, incremental improvements—they would cherry-pick tools […] to leverage productivity gains without ever challenging either the strategy or the attitudes of top management.”

Sourced from The Lean Post

Michel Baudin‘s comments: I have been a student of TPS for 38 years, and see it as the best way we know today to make cars and auto parts. And, yes, it has been successfully adapted to other manufacturing industries and even to some service businesses. Lean is a marketing label coined 30 years ago that, in the best cases, has been used to describe TPS or adaptations of TPS in situations where explicit references to Toyota would be problematic, for example at Toyota competitors or in hospitals, where the last thing you want to do is convey the impression that you treat patients like cars. In the worst cases, consultants have slapped this label on approaches unrelated to TPS, just to leverage Toyota’s credibility.

In earlier discussions, TPS and Lean have been attributed “DNA,” a metaphor I found objectionable because your DNA is something you cannot change. Now Lean is said to have a “soul,” a religious term I wouldn’t apply to a manufacturing system or a way to manage business operations. It is reading too much into these prosaic things.

I agree with Ballé that there are “different ways to look at the same tools, materials, and stories.” At first, I looked at TPS from an engineering perspective and was awed by the richness of its technical content. I learned the human side later, as a result of working with people on implementation. It’s not an uncommon path for engineers to follow, particularly industrial engineers, whose focus from the start is on the way people work.

On the other hand, I have yet to meet social scientists or psychologists rounding out their skills with engineering. As pointed out in another post earlier this year, the loudest voices in Lean have no engineering background. Perhaps the real divide among the professionals who use the “Lean” label is between the minority that gives engineering issues the attention they deserve and the majority that doesn’t.

According to Ballé, what makes Toyota different is the emphasis on developing people. Indeed Toyota proclaims “Respect for Humanity” in its official statement of The Toyota Way, but how distinctive is it? It’s not radically different from Dave Packard’s HP Way, or the philosophy behind TWI. Going back further in time, many websites claim that 19th-century steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie said: “Take away my people, but leave my factories and soon grass will grow on the factory floors…Take away my factories but leave my people and soon we will have a new and better factory.”

A puzzling line in Ballé’s post is his citing the story of the implementation of Lean at Valéo which, based on personal communication from Valéo alumni, was conducted in my-way-or-the-highway style, with employees required to apply tools without asking questions. This is not exactly what comes to mind when you hear a speech about people development but, remarkably, it worked for Valéo. It is the example I had in mind when discussing the rote application of Lean tools.