quality_problemWhat is Lean management if, for all practical purposes, there is no “Respect for People” principle to complement “Continuous Improvement?” The answer is, not much. The thing that makes Lean different, special, and extremely powerful has been removed.

“Lean,” the generic term for TPS, quickly became a synonym for “continuous improvement,” devoid of Toyota-style kaizen and “Respect for People.” Lean is widely seen as a collection of tools to improve processes, typically in haphazard fashion. And, in actual practice, Lean typically lacks the goal of material and information flow, which, in turn, does not challenge one’s thinking nor does it develop human capabilities to any significant extent. Without “Respect for People,” the product known as “Lean” has a massive quality problem.

To most people today, Lean is just conventional management with some new tools added to it, applied in the usual zero-sum way to assure the company wins at the expense of its external (and sometimes, internal) stakeholders. That is a terrible result, nearly 30 years after “lean production” was introduced to business leaders and the public.

Lean contained a serious design defect the moment it was introduced to the public 1988, when the goal of improving material and information flow was decoupled from “Respect for People.” For 20 years thereafter, the owners of Lean, James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones, and many others, advanced a practice whose key element was missing. Lean, however, did not conform to the progressive management standard.

Leaving out “Respect for People” did not respect people.

As noted in my previous blog post, correction – actually, more like a product recall to fix a major safety defect, as far as workers are concerned – finally came in 2008 from Womack. Other organizations that promote Lean followed soon thereafter. But, correction was not strong until 2014. More lost time – six years.

Has the product recall had significant impact? Has it changed the widespread perception among managers that Lean as nothing more than “tools for the manager’s toolbox,” and the widespread perception among workers that Lean is something that causes them injury?

When recalls occur, the response rate to fix the product is only about ten percent. The same may be true for Lean.

6 Responses to What is Lean Without Respect for People?

  1. William Ryan says:

    I think lean has progressed to the point to where many feel that they are getting a generic version of the real thing. I think Lean should not be looked at as a tool box but more as a philosophy of critical thinking learning and sharing that supports the main tenets of lean which is to become faster cheaper and better…It is also about eliminating waste but it more about peoples actions and beliefs than anything else.

    This encompasses respect and trust that go into the main principles of TPS. Those are Respect for all, Teamwork, Kaizen, Gemba, and Challenge… I believe it was Dr. Deming who said the organization must have balance to be and stay successful. He talked about the 3 legged stool being management, workers and shareholders. Today workers are not and have not been getting their share at many companies creating huge pay disparities. This is not been respectful to the workers in my opinion that increased globalization has brought this on in many ways…

  2. Mark Graban says:

    I agree that “Lean” without respect for people isn’t really Lean. It’s amazing and sad to see how many organizations would say, right now, they are “implementing Lean” and they aren’t even doing “continuous improvement” either. They’re running projects… teaching tools… doing Kaizen Events. That’s a serious problem today.

    Rather than continuing to lament what Womack and Jones did or didn’t say, I think the more serious problem TODAY is the “Lean Sigma” crowd that continually runs around spreading B.S. like “Lean is speed and Six Sigma is for quality” – implying that Lean / TPS doesn’t have a lot to contribute to quality, in terms of tools and management approaches. The “Lean Sigma” orthodoxy also claims Lean doesn’t help address variation (wrong) and that Lean is about efficiency, not effectivfeness (wrong) or that Lean doesn’t use data (wrong).

    Arguably, “Lean Sigma” has done far more to spread untruths about Lean. How many people and organizations have been thrown off track by that?

    What’s the countermeasure to it, other than trying to post corrections on people’s inane LinkedIn posts about Lean Sigma??

    • Bob Emiliani says:

      Hi Mark – Thank you for your comment. I feel continued lamentation is justified – for a little while longer, anyway – given their out-sized influence. Not only did they leave out “Respect for People,” they left out kaizen and other important things as well. They are not above criticism, nor I.

      You make a great point about “Lean Sigma.” I agree its proponents have long spread many wild untruths about Lean, and they continue to do so. Unfortunately, they too are influential. There are many countermeasures, all of which seem to be very weak. Presumably, “the marketplace” will sort things out! It is common that better products often lose out to inferior products.

      In both cases, Womack/Jones and Lean Sigma, we have obvious – glaring – variations in interpretation that generate significant misunderstandings and misapplication in practice. One can only hope that this does not result in harm to people, which, I hope you and others recognize, has always been my primary concern. Unfortunately, that is wishful thinking. I have witnessed much harm. Hence, my strident efforts to correct the record and also help improve people’s understanding of Lean management.

  3. Mark Graban says:

    I also meant to add, for what it’s worth, that the first edition of my book “Lean Hospitals” discussed “respect for people” and it’s been a topic on my blog since I started in 2005.

  4. Andre DeMerchant says:

    I would agree that better products oft lose out to inferior products and the conduit for this sort of poor value inequity is the uninformed consumer. Even if we think within the sandbox of the Lean consulting world, these ‘uninformed consumers’—who are frantically looking for a common sense business benefit that they can leverage—are bombarded by slick marketing that turns what is essentially a valueless product (like ‘Lean’ Sigma) into a silver bullet solution for those who do not know any better.

    This is compounded by the laws of supply and demand; now that the Lean consulting world has lots of pent-up demand, the charlatans—those who know a little about Lean but have never lived it for decades as a cultural transformation– are coming out of the woodwork and diluting what really is the tiny handful of competent teachers existing in the marketplace.

    I would also offer that this dearth of competent teachers is what contributes to the variation in interpretation/understanding about how Lean connects the 3 stakeholders in a multi-dimensional way. Tools are easy to learn and teach…..cultural transformation is not. It takes years of learning and practical application to understand how all of the layers of Lean work in a harmonious way to create not just better products and better processes but a better society as well.

    To Bob’s point about the marketplace being a filter: I would like to believe in that truth but I am not 100% convinced that will happen. In the meantime, I think it is the task of all of those who know better to continue to highlight the difference between ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’ Lean.

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