pmInterview of Professor Bob Emiliani in the 20 October 2016 issue of Production Manager magazine (Poland).

According to you, Toyota Production System has its roots in the American Progressive Era. Why?

The technical basis of the Toyota Production System (TPS) is rooted in Industrial Engineering (IE) developed by Frederick Winslow Taylor and Frank Bunker Gilbreth circa 1900, plus contributions to the development of IE by others, particularly in the United States, in the period between 1915 and 1940. And it likely included the humanistic insights of the prominent industrial psychologist, Lillian Gilbreth. Post 1945, Toyota made many significant contributions to Industrial Engineering.

What are the consequences of this for the methodology?

If it is understood and practiced correctly, and evolved over time, it is a revolutionary management mindset and practice that can significantly help the long-term survival of a company in its mission to serve its customer’s interests.

What prevented Lean Management from developing in the US on such a scale as it did in Japan?

TPS and Lean are similar in some ways but also very different. There are many factors that have prevented Lean from developing in the United States and elsewhere, especially how it was presented to the public over 25-plus years and its areas of focus – which was as tools for cost reduction and productivity improvement. It includes a very poor understanding of kaizen, a remarkably shallow understand of the “Respect for People” principle – including its historical significance throughout the history of progressive management – and almost no evolution in thinking.

Your long-term research is dedicated to so called Lean Leadership. How should we understand the term? How does Lean Leadership differ from traditional management?

You should understand Lean leadership as an entirely different set of leadership beliefs, behaviors, and competencies compared to conventional leadership.

What does your research show about the failures of Lean? Why do so many companies experience them? Are the reasons for the failures universal, or do they depend on the localization of the company?

Lean does not function correctly if people are harmed by improvement. When people are harmed, they withdraw from further participation in improvement activities. In most applications, leaders do harm to employees and other stakeholders as they seek to maximize gains in the short-term, for the benefit of shareholders at the expense of other stakeholders. This zero-sum (win-lose) application of Lean is no different than the zero-sum nature of conventional management. Therefore, it is nearly universal. For Lean to succeed, outcomes must be non-zero-sum (win-win). It is not considered an improvement if someone is made the loser. Nobody wants to be the loser.  Highly compensated leaders must not make people losers. There is no challenge in that. They must learn how to do the opposite.

Does Lean Management evolve? What is the future of the methodology? Is it not so that we still base on the tools that were invented several dozen years ago?

It seems Lean management has yet to evolve. TPS, on the other hand, has clearly evolved over time. Evolution is another aspect of Lean that has been largely absent in the construct known as Lean thinking. The future of Lean is uncertain. The future of TPS is invisible and therefore yet to be discovered. But with effort, in tandem with the emergence of abnormal conditions and the advancement of the needs of society, it will become visible.

You often emphasize that management as such is much more important than Lean tools themselves. Where is the point at which one should realize that implementing Lean makes no sense?

Not practicing Lean/TPS makes no sense. In the long run, society cannot afford all the waste, unevenness, and unreasonableness – from a cost perspective, from a time perspective, or from the perspective of human existence in which people seek better conditions. Today, people still have great love for waste. It requires leadership to re-direct people’s love to Toyota-style kaizen.

Why isn’t there any international organization overseeing the development of Lean, as it is for e.g. Kaizen or Theory of Constraints?

Many would say that the Lean Enterprise Institute (U.S.) and the Lean Enterprise Academy (U.K.) and the Planet Lean web site are the international organizations overseeing the development of Lean. But in my opinion, these are the wrong leaders because they do not understand TPS, which can only be understood from hands-on and brain-on experiences. My inspiration remains Toyota (from beginning to present) and sensei Chihiro Nakao, of Shingijutsu USA Corporation. I learn 50 things in one hour from Nakao-san. How many people are that kind of great teacher? It does not exist in Lean.

Can Lean Management be disseminated from factory to factory on the basis of benchmarking? Or does it require an individual approach every time?

There are many similarities among factories (and service organizations) because they share most of the same abnormal conditions. Therefore, the countermeasures will be largely the same, but there may be individual differences that lead to small changes practice. In my view, people have been misled to believe that each situation is uniquely different, which then gives them easy permission to say “We’re different.” They say “Flow won’t work here,” “We don’t need kaizen,” or “We must have these inventories.” These are excuses, but more importantly they show an unwillingness to think more deeply and evolve. They want to obtain some improvement and then stop. As Nakao-san says, “When kaizen stops, everything stops.”

Lean works perfectly within Toyota Production System. How accurately will Lean Management work in the conditions of extensive customization with a high volume of products (over 1000)?

TPS does not work perfectly in any part of Toyota Motor Corporation. They always encounter abnormal conditions and struggle to make improvements. Extensive product customization and high volume are no barrier to the effective functioning of TPS. It merely requires hard mental work and kaizen every day.

For most of the implementators of Lean, Toyota Production System is a ‘Holy Grail’ – a goal that is almost impossible to achieve. Is it not so that Toyota’s success stems from specific culture-dependent traits of Japanese workers? How important is the role of culture in Lean Leadership?

TPS is very difficult for people to understand and copy because it reflects an integration of four elements – Japanese language, daily living in Japan, Japanese history and traditions, and Buddhism and Shinto – into business practice that is rooted in a logical, curious, and thoughtful engineering mindset. In comparison, Western organizations lack the four elements and leadership is rooted in an illogical, incurious, and thoughtless business mindset; for example, maximize shareholder value, blame employees for problems, attack suppliers’ profit margins to get lower prices, excessive stock-based compensation, stagnant wages for employees, and so on.

Are you working on a new book or article at the moment?

I have recently submitted a paper to an academic journal that describes the recent evolution of my practice of Lean teaching, which I have been doing for 16 years. It incorporates more elements of the types of improvements one would find on the manufacturing shop floor. This was inspired by my working with Nakao-san on the book Kaizen Forever. It is likely that I will write a book on kaizen as applied to engineering and design work. Early in my career I worked in engineering and was responsible for design of a new product, so this is a topic that I am interested in pursuing, partly because most engineers think kaizen is only for the factory. I want to help break that ridiculous mindset.

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