What is the role of a professor in the Lean movement? Is it to mindlessly cheerlead Lean and highlight only the positive? Or, is it to think critically, carefully analyze the product (based on experience using the product), and identify practical improvements? My involvement with Lean over the last 22 years has focused on doing the latter – which, of course, is what professors should be doing. That bothers many Lean advocates, and so I periodically receive e-mails from people who are concerned about my work. Below is one such e-mail exchange.


I have a lot of respect for your knowledge and for the work you do. And do not wish to get into a public debate on this. But the way you go about sharing your thoughts relative to LEI practices looks (to the average reader) like you are jealous of their success. And that you are trying to say the pathway you follow is much more effective than the pathway they have followed. 

This is simply my observation and I’ve heard other people say something similar when they mention this dialog. I’m not saying my observation is correct. The perception may be partially due to the fact that every time you negatively rebuke what they are doing you then follow that with a reflection on how the pathway you followed was so much more effective.

Best wishes,


Hi ABC – Thank you for your note. I appreciate you taking the time to contact me.

Are you kidding? I wish LEI – and its customers – was MORE successful than they are.

I only note the fact that LEI (Womack, Jones, et al.) missed a key component of TPS for an incredibly long time (“Respect for People,” as well as its interdependence with “Continuous Improvement”). And, more recently, they are distancing themselves from the engineering basis of TPS (and they never understood its market basis), which will surely render Lean less effective and LEI less successful in the future.

So, yes, the pathway that I followed, which included these important elements, was obviously more effective. And so I passionately argue for that. Why the surprise?

I can imagine that many others, as you note, say similar things about my intentions. They are wrong. I am not driven by base motivations such as jealousy or money. I’ve clearly explained my motivations in various blog posts, and also make painstaking efforts to avoid conflicts of interest so that I can serve others an a truly independent voice. Who else does that?

I hope you understand that my role as a professor – the helping profession of teaching – differs from others, and therefore my contributions are different. Why isn’t there any room for that in Lean world?


Bob E.


There is absolutely room for that in the lean world.  And I think challenging one another to be better coaches, to learn more, to aspire to a higher plain of existence is very important.  I try to hold myself accountable for living that way and to inspire others to do likewise.  Getting in touch with reality as it really exists, rather than as we wish it were or assume it to be is vital to effective improvement practices.  It’s the foundation for all that I do in the world of improvement.

I have no idea what your relationship is like with LEI. If they are fine with receiving the feedback this way and they are making positive changes…then I guess it is a fine approach.  I really don’t have much of a relationship with them, as I find them a little cliquish.  So I’m not giving you this feedback to defend them in any way.

You are welcome to provide that feedback however you wish….but you might want to give a little more thought into the way you word your posts, as it looks more like bashing.  What is your purpose in making your comments, in providing these insights?  How well is it working doing this way?  Are you inspiring whatever it is you seek to inspire doing it this way? 

Thanks for your response.   I’m simply sharing what it looks like to me and to a few other folks who have made similar comments.  I am not questioning your intent or your honor, it’s quite obvious that you are also an improvement nutcase (as am I) who truly wants to see people and companies improve more effectively.

Hi ABC – As an independent, I have no relationship with LEI; nor am I interested in one. In almost all cases, LEI misunderstand my critiques by a wide margin and also mistakenly takes them as ad hominem attacks. They make no changes based on my critiques. Others have told me LEI is cliquish as well. That’s what it looks like to me from the outside, but I have no personal knowledge of that.

RE: Appearance of “bashing.” See http://www.bobemiliani.com/back-story-tough-tone/. Over the years, I have found if you are diplomatic, half the people don’t get it. If you write in a tough tone, half the people are turned off. That being the case, I just do what I feel is appropriate given the subject or circumstance. Regardless, the result is always bi-modal; it works for some/inspires some, but not for others. I have no expectation of doing better than that because the reality is that some people don’t want their beliefs questioned, while other are OK with that.

The odd thing is that people’s love of a progressive system of management (Lean) that asks them to think critically, ask “Why?” challenge the status quo, abandon preconceptions, pursue the truth, etc., cannot tolerate these things when it comes to Lean itself and the work of those who gave us Lean (Krafcik, Womack, Jones, etc.). Not so odd, actually. Inconsistency and hypocrisy are part of the human condition.  

I don’t worry about what others think. If I did, there would be less progress and slower progress towards getting to the truth. That’s how professors think. That’s why tenure exists (for now), so one can speak truth to power. That almost never goes well.  🙂


Bob E.

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