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.

8 comments on “The Battle for the Soul of Lean | Michael Ballé | The Lean Post

  1. michel,

    always enjoy your insights and i particularly like the comments about the divide of those who embrace and those who do not embrace the deep involvement of engineering principles in a lean transformation. not only that but i find that a missing link is the ability of the management team to not only talk about lean, but to actually do it. To me it is curious that the noisiest proponents of lean and some of the most effective sales people, neither managed in a manufacturing facility nor had engineering training.

  2. Michel, I once again (as I often do) admire the arguments you propose. If I may add my two cents, and I speak as an IE academic who simply did not know what my profession is about and needs to evolve into, I think that the engineer-first-manager-next is the correct way for any manufacturing or service business to “really get TPS right”.

    I pooh pooh the arm-waving writings in the 100s of Lean books that have been written to date. Well, that is too harsh! I think that there are some books …. but few that I respect that they talk about stuff that actually works, or stuff that the author/s hypothesize will work.

    Now that I have personally succeeded at bridging the gap between academia and industry in my own career as an Industrial Engineer, THERE IS NO DOUBT IN MY MIND that the best manager/executive is somebody who has implemented Industrial Engineering (or related proven methods) in different aspects of their business. Superficial knowledge like what is gained from a Lean Certification or a Six Sigma Black Belt just does not cut it!

    FIRST, be successful doing/implementing IE and then, depending on the personality, preference and leadership potential, NEXT those individuals should rise into management. In summary, the engineer-turned-manager is the best “fit” for leading any organization. ALTERNATIVELY, the “MBA CEO” absolutely needs to surround himself/herself with an A team of engineers-turned-managers.

    Here are the FEW people that I have tremendous admiration for — Art Byrne, George Koenigsacker, Takehiko Harada, Jim Lancaster, Alan Mulally …. please add to this list! The worst thing that could have happened to US manufacturing is that they bought into the fluff and bluff marketed by the Lean Enterprise Institute and their Value Added Resellers.

  3. Comment in the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn:

    “the loudest voices in Lean have no engineering background.”
    Nor have ever done anything on the shop floor, but give you “lessons”. 😉
    That’s why I follow only Toyota people, they are always adding value to you.

    • I think it pays to be more eclectic and, as the creators of TPS did, grab good ideas wherever you can find them. QRQC is from Nissan; “the racing spirit” in product development, from Honda; the “HP Way,” which was, for decades, a model in people development, from HP. More recently, some of Google’s practices have commanded attention…

      Focusing on a company is risky because the ebb and flow of business, management changes, acquisitions, etc., can cause it to fall off its own wagon and abandon the practices that had made it special. Individuals have more integrity.

  4. Comment in the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn:

    I am an engineer and a former Toyota employee. One thing I learned is that Toyota takes inspiration from all sources and does not beforehand judge a source unworthy. People ouside the normal “box” often see things that we inside the box can’t see (and the other way round). I personally value Michels views quite a lot.

    I also sadly agree with Shahrukh that a lot of what is called lean nowadays is a travesty and a buzzword contest. The difficulty lies in telling who really knows and who is a charlatan, as most people fall somewhere in between.

  5. To respond to Christoph’s comment “The difficulty lies in telling who really knows and who is a charlatan, as most people fall somewhere in between”. I say this being an Industrial Engineer. All that I care about is, “Did what got done, regardless of whether it was called Lean or Six Sigma or TOC or What-Have-You, produce measurable results?” There HAS to be some tangible results obtained! Which is why all this blah-blah about Lean CEOs and Lean Leaders and Lean-to-Make-You-Feel-Warm-and-Fuzzy is suspect! The Lean consultant/coach/sensei made the money but what did their client get by way of results after their leaders became Lean and their workforce culture was changed?

  6. Michel,
    Also being a Valeo alumnus (without the accent by the way), I think it is somewhat more nuanced then you describe. My personal observation is that the Valeo Production System was and is successful because it knows how to strike the right balance between top-down and bottom-up.
    It is top-down as the VPS is seen as the accumulated experience of 100,000 people in 180 sites during 30 years of purposeful practice. You didn’t just deviate from it.
    It is bottom-up at the same time, however, as the VPS (like any good Lean system) shows problems to all its 100,000 people to solve by them based upon QRQC. This leads to kaizen by all, all the time, everywhere.
    Also at the system level, it is dual. When performance is poor and you don’t respect the system, clearly, the characteristic is top-down: “First, apply the system”. You should not criticize a system you never really applied (which happens a lot in less successful Lean production system efforts). You should do the experiment and apply (or “do”) before you can conclude (“act”) on the “plan” (the system) based on “study”. To us, it was basic PDSA thinking.
    However, when the VPS was applied and still lead to problems, the system itself was scrutinized and functional leaders (like me at the time) had the task to improve the system based upon actual recurring and systemic problems in our plants, with these plants. The resulting bottom-up standards then became part of the VPS (the accumulated experience) and were deployed again, in a top-down fashion.
    I personally experienced it as a very smart way to balance both top-down and bottom-up. In execution, there should be discipline and standards should be applied. In improvement, there should be creativity by all in scrutinizing existing standards. There is a time and a place for both.
    Cdt, Rob

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