Lean Thinking: ingredients, incubation and diffusion | John Shook | Planet Lean

Ford and Toyota

What does it really mean to say that lean thinking is not uniquely Japanese? First, it indicates that not all Japanese companies are ‘lean.’ […] Secondly, we have successful examples of lean applications all around the world – not just in Japan […]. We know these things to be true.

To say, however, that lean is not uniquely Japanese doesn’t mean that there is nothing Japanese about it. So, let’s explore this second, little explored, idea. […] by asking more questions. One critical question we can ask ourselves is: “Could have TPS emerged anywhere other than Japan?” And finally, “What, if anything, is Japanese about lean thinking?”

My attempt to address these questions – an ever-changing effort as I reflect more and the world around us keeps evolving – has taken the shape of the graph you see below, which illustrates what I call the “Toyota double funnels”. There are three main sections to the graphic:

  • The left funnel represents a selection of key ingredients that, combined, have led to the creation of Toyota’s way of working.
  • The spiral in the middle of the graphic represents the actual genesis of the Toyota Way, TPS, TPD, TMS and lean thinking, which can be traced back to a 30-year period of incubation, between 1950 and 1980.
  • The right funnel represents the diffusion of this body of knowledge around the world, which started around the time of the NUMMI experiment, in 1984.

[…]I believe the spread of lean has been both a matter of diffusion and of dilution.[…] Along with the dilution, there’s been more than a little delusion, aided by consultants selling things under the name of “lean” that are far from the original intent of the thinking, system, and application.”

John Shook’s double funnel is reproduced here. Click on it to enlarge or view it on Planet Lean to click on each item and see more details.

John Shook’s double funnel

Sourced through Planet Lean

Michel Baudin‘s comments: As usual, John Shook’s post is both grounded in deep knowledge and well written. The infographic is also clear and the popup boxes of information attached to each item on Planet Lean are a valuable enhancement.  But I still don’t buy everything in it.

The leftmost column seems to describe mostly Sakichi Toyoda’s personal cultural background and the link between some of these items and TPS, the Toyota Way, or Lean strikes me as far-fetched.

Terakoya, for example, were primary schools. They taught reading, writing, and the abacus for calculations. I don’t see a direct connection with the specifics of TPS, as different from, say, mass production.

Nichiren is a nationalist cult whose practice consists of chanting the Japanese title of the Lotus Sutra a million times to achieve enlightenment. My closest exposure to it was working in a Japanese office where the manager was a member of this and systematically favored his coreligionists, who tried to convert me.

Crediting Shigeo Shingo (1909 – 1990) with introducing IE to Japan pre-1950 is a generational stretch. As Mark Warren suggested, Yoichi Ueno (1883-1957) seems a better fit.

I am also puzzled by the credit given to Peter Drucker, whose career was mostly after 1950, and whom I think of as the pied piper of American managers, wrapping bad ideas in such an attractive package that they all fell for them. What does John Shook think he contributed to Toyota?

The last column on the right, on the diffusion side, contains many events that occurred since 2001 but are not related to TPS or Lean in any way I can see, like the Great Recession or the off-shoring moves by US and European manufacturers chasing low labor costs. I am also wondering why he includes efforts like Agile/Scrum or Lean Startup that strike as unrelated to the topic.

#JohnShook, #Lean, #TPS, #Toyota