In my previous blog post, Teachers, Trainers, Coaches, or Faculty?, I gave examples of imprecision associated with Lean that affects people’s understanding and practice, and which has a large impact on people, process, and outcomes. Among other things, I noted how Lean trainers are referred to as “faculty” by both the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) and the Lean Enterprise Academy (LEA). Let’s talk about what real faculty do so you can understand the important things that fake faculty do not do.

Beyond teaching and research, one of the reasons why universities exist is to make contributions to society. One means for doing so is by engaging the public in discussion. This responsibility falls to the faculty, and occasionally to the top administrator. While faculty spend most of their time challenging and criticizing within the narrow confines of academia (in journal papers and at conferences), their work often spills over into the public arena – particularly in cases where harm could be done as a result of being uninformed. The harm done could be to things like infrastructure, the environment, wildlife, the food supply, human health, business, government, and so on.

College and university faculty are independent thinkers whose knowledge and understanding of a topic is based on facts. Being human, however, assures that bias can slip in, but that is usually minor in relation to the heavy weight of the facts. The only ideology that responsible faculty adhere to is the pursuit of truth in their area of study. Faculty, paid by not-for-profit colleges and universities, are expected to think critically and advance knowledge in their respective areas through research and teaching. Often, our work is controversial and it annoys or angers people. That is why tenure exists; to assure that the truth can be pursued by faculty without fear of retribution from university administrators, politicians, business interests, the public, foreign powers, etc.

Faculty have a responsibility to expose and correct errors, as well as bias, prejudice, faulty thinking, etc. My criticisms of Lean are well documented in my books and in the blog posts listed below. My public discussion testing the received wisdom of Lean is controversial, unpopular, and surely annoys and angers many people. But others see my criticisms of Lean as both accurate and a breath of fresh air; a dose of reality that everyone needs. I understand that my work can be seen in different ways.

Note that I have never questioned the qualifications of the LEI and LEA trainers to deliver training. But, I have criticized the training itself from the standpoint that, to greater or lesser extents, it must adhere to the Lean orthodoxy as prescribed by Womack and Jones. In other words, the trainers cannot think independently and to some extent must do what they are told if they want to work for LEI or LEA and enjoy the associated financial and non-financial benefits. Therefore, LEI and LEA “faculty” cannot do what real faculty do. Real faculty have serious responsibilities that extend far beyond people whose actual role is limited to training.

Needless to say, it is not in the best interest of LEI and LEA trainers to challenge Womack and Jones. Because of this, Lean has evolved at a much slower pace than if criticism (an improvement kata) was eagerly sought as opportunities to learn and improve, as well as to better serve LEIs and LEAs customers. Large gaps between Lean management and Toyota management practice existed early on and widened over time. These large gaps, as well as many smaller imprecisions, have turned out to be very important because they strongly affect the level of success that people can have with Lean.

Lean has long been presented to the public as nothing but upside, with little mention of possible or actual downsides (the latter have come only recently). So it is upsetting to the Lean community when someone like me takes on the role of critic and conscience of the Lean movement. My role would be unnecessary if Lean movement leaders had long ago taken on the role themselves. Isn’t that what Toyota leaders do? But instead, LEI and LEA continue to be the most self-congratulatory bunch of people I have ever seen (check out social media), and they are clearly not yet willing or able to take on the role of critic and conscience of the Lean movement.

The attitude needs to change. Let me give you an example of what I mean with respect to my own work as a teacher. I know I am an excellent teacher. So much so that I think my teaching is terrible. I passed through the excellent-terrible barrier after just a few years of teaching. That transcendence drove me to rapidly experiment and improve my teaching beyond what I ever dreamed was possible. Thinking your work is excellent is poison because you can never see how terrible it actually is, you can never see (or hear) what needs to be improved, and you cannot think ways to improve it. A similar transcendence needs to take place with LEI and LEA.


Below is a curated collection of blog posts that I have written over the last few years that criticize Lean and challenge Lean movement leaders in many different ways.

Teachers, Trainers, Coaches, or Faculty?
Lean: Past, Present, and Future
Spooky Historical Parallels
Generic Brand or Name Brand?
A Little Bit of Knowledge Can Be…
Lean Thinking vs. Kaizen Thinking
Interview in Production Manager Magazine
Toyota’s One Best Way
Critique of “Dealing with Lean’s Crazy Relatives”
Thoughts on “Lean Thinking at 20”
Thoughts On “Lean Thinking – The Making of a Book”
20th Anniversary of Lean Thinking
What is Lean Without Respect for People?
The Great Lean Mystery
Fealty to the Lords of Lean
Lean’s Next 25 Years
Lean Success and Lean Failure
Is Lean the Same as TPS?
Lean’s Holy Grail
Evolving Out of Need
Lean’s Bad Timing
Lean’s Promise Broken
Existential Threats to Lean
Lean Hypocrisy
What Went Wrong?
Lean’s Midlife Crisis
The Illusion of Understanding
Something Revolutionary Seen as Ordinary
The Lean Movement’s Strategic Errors
Reverse Toyota Way
Just-Too-Late
Evolution and Future of Lean
Much Study, Little Understanding
Yasuhiro Monden
Shifting Definitions of Lean Thinking


If you doubt my motivation or sincerity, please read Motivations and Aspirations, Hopes and Dreams, and Eight Questions I Get From My Students. And also read “What Bob Does” so that you clearly understand what I do and don’t do.

2 Responses to Critic and Conscience of the Lean Movement

  1. Criticism about your criticism… as an LEI faculty member since 2009, my training materials have never been censored or changed against my will.

    I’m not forced to adhere to a narrow orthodoxy and I doubt other LEI faculty members do. You should be careful not to let an opinion masquerade as a fact. It hurts your credibility when you have other, more valid concerns.

    This statement is not true, even with the qualifier of “to some extent:”

    “[the training] must adhere to the Lean orthodoxy as prescribed by Womack and Jones. In other words, the trainers cannot think independently and to some extent must do what they are told if they want to work for LEI or LEA and enjoy the associated financial and non-financial benefits.”

    There are many LEI faculty members who are doing their own work, their own thinking, and add to the LEI training literature.

    • Bob Emiliani says:

      The qualifications cover your concerns. Doing what one is told can be implied, and the extent to which one does what they are told can be self-imposed. It does not have to be an external actor giving explicit instructions to the trainers. The question is, can – or do – trainers test the received wisdom? Or are they conflicted as a result of who pays them? Has any LEI or LEA trainer ever challenged Womack and Jones? I suggest to avoid putting trainers in a difficult situation, LEI and LEA should be explicit to both their trainers and the public and say: “Trainers are under no explicit or implicit obligation to adhere to Lean orthodoxy and are free to challenge any aspect of Lean thinking, Lean production, or Lean management in their training for LEI and LEA.” Dissemination of the trainer’s own wisdom is not an issue here.

      Update: Let’s look at a couple of examples.

      Example 1. Let’s say you worked for Company X. Common sense tells you it would be unwise to say to people inside or outside the company that the products are fundamentally flawed, competitors’ products are better, and the like. If you want to keep my job, you will fall in line and be part of the team. This is why is so important for leaders to be receptive to the views of outsiders. It is a valuable information input to continuous improvement and demonstrates respect for people.

      Example 2: If you were an LEI or LEA trainer who subscribed to the Lean orthodoxy, then the “Respect for People” principle would not have been part of your training material from 1997 (when LEI was formed) to 2008 (when LEI finally recognized the “Respect for People” principle). Or, you would leave out the “Respect for People” principle because it was not what you were getting paid to deliver.

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