plan-doNearly 30 years after the start of the Lean movement, there is widespread agreement that things have not gone according to plan. Of course, there have been some notable successes (particularly those who worked with Shingijutsu), yet they are far fewer in number than anyone expected given the wide-ranging benefits of Lean management to all stakeholders. I have previously commented on the strategic errors that were made, but I’d like to expand upon that here.

This is not criticism resulting from hindsight – far from it. What happened could be seen and understood in real-time or after short delays of one to three years. These are the miscalculations that I observed:

  • The strength to which people are attracted to tools to improve their existing management practices, and, conversely, the near-total lack of interest in a completely new system of management. Thus, Lean tools that are peripheral to core industrial engineering methods used in kaizen became very popular. This includes 5S, visual controls, value stream maps, A3 reports, and gemba walks.
  • Waiting 20 years, until 2007, to transition from Lean production to Lean management, and with a new focus on Lean leadership (outcomes of LEIs 10th anniversary celebration).
  • Waiting until 2007 to explicitly recognize and until 2014 to aggressively promote the “Respect for People” principle, when its importance was apparent decades earlier – both at Toyota and in the days Scientific Management 100 years ago. The many layoffs that came as a result of Lean are a tragedy and its most obvious and regrettable failure.
  • Judging the history of Scientific Management to be irrelevant, and therefore useless to learn from to address current-day problems regarding the acceptance and advancement of progressive Lean management. As a result, we are witness to a history that has now repeated itself.
  • Not emphasizing flow, and the inseparable connection between it, kaizen, and the “Respect for People” principle.
  • Vastly overestimating the extent to which conservative business leaders might be interested in a progressive system of management, the extent of their curiosity, and the extent of their interest in improving their leadership behaviors and competencies.
  • Overestimating the extent to which people in top leadership positions care about people. If Lean is, as some say, “all about people,” then it is clear that most leaders don’t care about people, particularly when the distance between them and the shop or office floor, both physically or in rank, is great.
  • Promoting wealth creation instead of humbler, more basic, aspirations and outcomes; the kind of positive results that everyone wants to experience, such as process simplification, made possible by human creativity and innovative ideas in a fun and non-threatening work environment.
  • Overconfidence on the part of the bigwigs who study the Toyota to think that they could understand it, and hence lead others, without ever actually creating, with their own hands, a functioning flowline in an industrial setting. That they would become the arbiters of Lean thought and practice is remarkable. The unwillingness of people to challenge them made matters worse.

It is apparent that the Lean movement did the Plan-Do, but it did not do the Check-Act. The lack of timely problem recognition and corrective action stands out, in my view, as a major error that compounded the impacts of these miscalculations.

As a result of strategic errors and miscalculations, there exists deeply-rooted negative associations of Lean to things like layoffs, (Fake) Taylorism, and bureaucratic (check-the-box) Lean. We should expect Lean to have limited appeal going forward, thus making our job a little harder.

These are perils of outsourcing our thinking to establishment leaders. Instead, we must think for ourselves and figure out what to do, with guidance from the originals. In my view, the way forward includes a renewed focus on kaizenflow, and Lean leadership. Lean management is an innovation of strategic significance, which will, in time, become more widely embraced because it can help humanity. So we must face our challenges and persevere.

9 Responses to What Went Wrong?

  1. Hal says:

    Wonderful article, Bob. And, a reminder that there are no quick fixes – as Deming would say. It takes discipline, understanding, and some elbow grease. Those things that were missed by the business schools of the 1970s through present. IMO

    I encounter numerous leaders who want to jump in without first understanding Lean principles. They just want to try the “tools.” As you and others have stated before, that’s LAME not LEAN.

  2. Chaka Wallace says:

    Fantastic article

  3. Jay Bitsack says:

    Hi Bob,
    I’m going to have to state that… completely buying into everything you’ve stated in this blog requires a “grain of salt.” What do I mean by that, you might wonder? Well, IF we’re completely realistic/truthful/open-minded about the topic of “WHAT WENT WRONG” [WITH THE REALIZATION/ACHIEVEMENT OF TRUE LEAN THINKING AND BEHAVING], those who do possess a superior grasp of what it TRULY entails realize that it’s NOT and easy thing to get one’s arms/minds around.

    In reality, that is, truth be told… TRUE LEAN THINKING AND BEHAVING [ala the TPS/Toyota Way] is rather complex in nature. NOT because the methods/tools/techniques that are typically associated with Lean are complex and difficult to comprehend in and of themselves, BUT RATHER, because of the dynamic “SYSTEMIC” nature of this approach to running and sustaining a tightly-integrated, business/enterprise endeavor. And if there’s one skill that’s been seriously lacking throughout the global business community, it’s the ability to think and behave on a systemic level. [Note: And in the 21st century and beyond, that singular ability may not even be sufficient… Re: the work of Dr. Derek Cabrera in connection with the topic of “meta-cognition” and the practice of D.S.R.P. THINKING (where D=Distinctions, S=Systems, R=Relationships, and P=Perspectives).

    That said, those folks who took the earliest steps to get the Lean Thinking ball rolling in the Western World, do deserve some recognition for the prescient (or even opportunistic) actions. Unfortunately, after the rabbit was out of the hat, it would become an enormous challenge to recapture it and study it – for any sufficient length of time and in sufficient detail – to fully comprehend its most profound essence. Instead, what was observed and recorded was its most superficial and readily observable manifestations. And as is so often the case, many folks studying the Japanese Automotive Industry and contrasting it that of the Western World, were quick to make the most superficial comparisons and draw conclusions based on apparent correlations rather than actual causation (ala systemic interconnections and interdependencies).

    So, in this context, it should be hats of to the likes of Norman Bodek, Michael Cusumano, Masaaki Imai, and even Taiichi Ohno for providing some of the earliest opportunities for the rest of the world to get a peek underneath what had been a customarily closed/opaque kimono [i.e., the exterior covering]. In fact, there may be [or so I believe] much more opportunity to gain the necessary deep insight(s) into the fundamental [TRUE] essence of LEAN THINKING AND BEHAVING [ala the TPS/Toyota Way] by paying very close attention to its historical origins – and subsequent evolution – than by looking at the more observable physical manifestations that exist today (very often by doing on-site visits/tours and/or conducting sponsored academic studies) … NOT UNLIKE YOUR CONCENTRATED/FOCUSED STUDY OF FWT and the origins of “SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT.”

    Unfortunately, many of today’s most popular/recognized LEAN PUNDITS have a reputation to uphold. And facing the reality of WHAT’S GONE WRONG, changing one’s stance/position is NOT something most pundits view as being compatible with either their psyche/ego or [possibly] even with their ready and waiting respective pocketbooks. So, like much of what so badly ails America (and other parts of the world) these days, the ability to make progress and transform the prevailing “system” is being thwarted by virtue of it being quagmired in or tied to the past (not to mention the controlling and highly-biased self-interests). – Time to recall Einstein’s famous saying in this regard.

    • Bob Emiliani says:

      Hi Jay – Thank you for your feedback. Your third paragraph is particularly insightful and I think accurately reflects what happened. The issue, I think, and obviously in hindsight, was that the research was incomplete; it did not carefully examine the full body of work by Taylor and others. And, their work was was not brought to the foreground as a great source of influence for Toyota. So, instead of celebrating that earlier work, it was largely ignored and misconceptions about it have been allowed to fester and therefore negatively impact people’s understanding and practice of Lean.

      As far as the people who have a reputation to uphold, they are also the ones who constantly remind us to see reality as it actually is so that we can improve. Let’s treat this in a no-blame way and just admit that some things went wrong and move forward, together, to achieve better outcomes in the future.

      The problem is not making errors. The problem is not recognizing and correcting errors.

  4. Jay Bitsack says:

    Hi Bob,
    I agree – to some extent – with your thoughts on what was lacking/missing in the study of the origins and subsequent evolution of TRUE LEAN THINKING AND BEHAVING (ala the TPS/Toyota Way). The part I believe needs much greater clarification/enhancement is that which focuses only on the contribution(s) made by the addition/inclusion/incorporation of “Scientific Management” principles and practice into the overall “SYSTEM.” Yes, understanding what those principles and practices happen to be and that they are an important part of the overall “SYSTEM” created by Toyota is important. BUT, that’s also true for all the contributing elements. Focusing more on one over the others does not provide any insight into how and why they are important relative to how they may have contributed (and may still be contributing) to the on-going evolution/emergence of the overall or total “SYSTEM.” What seems to be missing from the the process of developing an accurate and comprehensive understanding is a “holistic” mindset/perspective. In essence, the shortcoming seems to emanating from too much reliance on the individual parts instead of the whole.

  5. Jay Bitsack says:

    Hi Bob,
    Forgot to mention that… Agreed… to err is human, NOT TO LEARN from one’s mistakes/short-comings/failures is debilitating and WASTEFUL. And for any number of root causes, it’s proving very difficult for modern-day human beings to get over this [lack of sufficient] learning [interest/ability] hurdle. Something else is proving to be more compelling in its ability to take precedent over continuous improvement.

  6. David Bovis says:

    Hi Bob et al,
    I’d like to contribute my two pennyworth to this thread as I found myself mostly in agreement and wanting to expand on each point. However, I can already feel an encyclopedia of thought trying to get through my fingers onto the page and will have to resign myself to the old saying “You can’t tell what you know”.
    So broadly, to start, I’d like to say, I see the world the same way … the ‘short version’ of thoughts behind that statement is as follows (if anyone can be bothered to read through it all lol).

    As far as I’m led to believe: Following the OPEC Embargo and the 1973 Oil Crisis, various people visited Toyota (Atkinson etc.), to see how they’d posted a profit when the other nations involved had seen all manufacturing organisations post losses. During these visits, they missed the importance of the cultural backdrop in Japan (Tatamae / Honne, Oyoban / Kobun relationships etc.) and returned with a partially filled toolbox they named ‘Quality Circles’ (Around the same time Black and Decker were adopting MRP in the states, under the guidance of the Oliver Wight Checklist .. which is actually a very robust approach – sadly, the initial stages of the ABC checklist were ignored then and are still ignored today).

    QC was seen to fail within a few years and has since been re-branded over and over, through TQM-to-WCM-to-Lean whilst simultaneously fragmenting to see elements like Pareto over-complicated to become TOC, while 6Sigma, presented simplistically as a change from % to PPM in the days of WCM, became a statistical nightmare, of value to few … similar patterns can be seen behind Agile (Lean applied to ITIL and Prince2 type approaches to address IT project management failures), While OpEx & PEX exist as just more new names for the original Tools and techniques associated to TPS. These and other ‘CI Methods’ have spun off to claim a sovereign approach when in reality they expand on particular aspects of an evolutionary approach, hailing from lessons learned from the origins of the industrial revolution, through Gottlieb Daimler to Ford, from Taiichi Ohno studying Wal Mart & Piggly Wiggly, from Taylor, Gilbreth, Box, Toyoda and Toyota, The Chinese Army, Carl Gauss, Bethlehem Steel, Bell Telephone Laboratories, Walter A. Shewhart, Deming, Shainin et al.

    Such historical points of contact have, to some extent, converged and split in equal measure to promote two or three threads of over-arching approach in industry today, poorly adopted by other sectors like Banking and Finance, Health Care, the MOD, Government etc…. all of which FOCUS ON THE LOGICAL … all of which reflect a millenium long mind-set influenced by Greek logic and Socratic / Plutonic inductive and deductive reasoning (Taught as the de-facto approach in universities worldwide for decades).

    While this has all been going on (for the last 40+ years), MRP became MRPII and then ERP as the same, fail-update-re-brand approach transpired in the world of IT based organisational control, parallel to the evolution of all methods now referred to as ‘Lean’. (Including Rosy the Riveter and TWI etc. – the influence over innovation provoked during and after World Wars cannot be underestimated).

    It is the mindset, evolved of this experience, that sits behind the largely ineffective ‘Project Management’ approach which most adopt as ‘just the way we do things around here’ today… this approach has a global reach, seeing $billions wasted in pursuit of an approach to change that is systematically designed to be ineffective where ‘people’ are involved (Not to mention the cost of increased stress, days lost, attrition, re-training etc.).

    PM minds Do ‘To’ rather than ‘With’, they impose before they include, they do ‘What’ needs to be done with little concern for ‘How’ leaders (themselves included) must lead [by example] to get the best results when change is required, promoting blame (looking backwards in time) over responsibility (looking forwards in time), they promote short term performance based on logical assumptions & projections over long term thinking behind management decisions, even at the expense of short term benefits etc. etc. (Most obvious from Governmental levels down in a world that works on ‘Political term in office of only a few years between elections) … The PM mind also fails to define ‘How’ to be, in terms of efficiency and effectiveness of leading change, with a psychologically / neuro-scientifically informed world view… and then there’s the ‘Why’ (Too much detail for here).

    What we haven’t done over these past 40-odd years, is recognise Socratic reflection, Hansei, Muri, Mura etc. And we’re now failing to understand the benefit of this 2nd dimension of effective change / leadership, even though we have the psychological and neuro-scientific knowledge to understand how and why this humanitarian aspect adds benefit at sociological and organisational levels .. at cultural levels… addressing the critical issue of Sustainability of Change. (i.e. Recognising the Neuro-chemical influence over neural formation as the baseline behind human adaption and therefore ‘change’) … i.e. Organisations don’t change, people do. (Where ‘organisation’ is a proxy term for a group of people … i.e. the outward manifestation of multiple neural wiring and firing patterns).

    Where this 2nd dimension has tried to break through the project management mindset, we’ve seen approaches like Emotional Intelligence, Appreciative Inquiry, The Chimp Paradox, Critical Systems Heuristics etc. get some attention, then die away again. The problem of course is that they are culturally diverse world views and don’t combine with project management minds to create an integrated approach.

    It is however, this, as yet, very rare mindset that sits behind effective and efficient ‘Change Management’, which few adopt today. (Collins level 5, Deming’s SoPK etc. all allude to this ‘understand the development of the human brain at base of effective change’, approach, as it applies to Project management).

    ALL logical (PM) approaches have missed the issue of the foundational impact the personal beliefs of leaders have on organisational performance … (knowledge which is more intuitively understood within an Eastern culture). ALL emotional (CM) approaches have missed the need for rigour in an industrial setting required to co-ordinate change across a large amount of people (as they are inevitably born of an individualistic approach to personal development).

    In terms of ‘Cause-Effect’, the consultants of the 1970’s brought the ‘Effect’ back to western shores while ignoring ‘Cause’. The western world has increasingly been barking up the wrong tree ever since. (i.e. Six Sigma taking us further down the logical control [narrow and deep] cul-de-sac, rather than expanding minds to understand the ‘systems thinking’ mentality that follows a broader definition of Kaizen. (The definition I’ve adopted over time is “On-going goodness / benefit to all, no one-person gaining at another’s expense” [With the word ‘Good’ featuring on purpose for deeper philosophical consideration]).

    The irony in all of this is that, if you investigate Lilian Gilbreth’s influence via the Table Top experiments delivered in Japan in the early 1900’s, you can easily recognise all the principles we now consider ‘Lean’, including parallels to ‘The Lego Exercise’ to demonstrate productivity improvements via small batch / single piece flow. From one report I have (from a US couple who made it there mission to get to the bottom of this) It seems it was Lilian’s Table Top Experiments that shaped the entire Japanese Management movement for decades thereafter, seeing intensive residential 3 month+ training courses designed and developed. (Which in fact influenced the approach taken by Horikome within the Naval yard Shingo did his time at long before his time with Toyota).

    The other thing to recognise is that on a moral level, it was about the same time (Early 1900’s) that the Gilbreths (Frank and Lilian) distanced themselves from Taylor, following the meeting with Brandeis who wanted to use what he’d called ‘Scientific Management’ to fight his Rates Case on the railroad. It was after that case that the term ‘Scientific Management’ became popular and the approach to time study without any psychological considerations started to take root in the US. Not until the Hawthorne experiments by George Elton Mayo did we see any recognition of this, followed by McGregors observations in the 60’s, but again, as much as these case studies etc. identified deeper issues behind effective change and sustainability, they didn’t get any lasting traction with industrial leaders who held and still largely hold a belief that bottom line improvements come through the application of tangible, pre-defined tools (irrespective of the psychological impact the imposition of those tools have on employees).

    So what I’m saying is, YES, I agree with your position in broad terms. I think the only thing I’d present slightly differently is that we don’t need to recognise PDCA as the answer and return to it (doing it better next time around). Rather I’d say, PDCA was always incomplete, reflecting only the Project Management mindset. Which I assume is why Deming moved on in later years to promote SoPK, highlighting a need for leaders to have a working knowledge of Variation control, Systems [thinking?], Psychology and ToK [which we might now consider neuroscience]).

    What we need now is to embrace the knowledge available to us from these other disciplines and to work on an integrated ‘whole’ / holistic / integrated solution, combining what we might loosely call ‘Project Management’ [Logical intelligence], with what we might loosely call ‘Change Management’ [Emotional Intelligence / systematic psychological maturity].

    This entire view is self-promoting of course, because it’s what I’ve been working on tirelessly for 15 years. And putting my IP at risk, I’ll use one of our core models to wrap up my position on all of this.

    If we accept PDCA is only one side of a coin, we must have another model that provides the alternative view. From Duxinaroe, this is BTFA© and reflects a Yin/Yang, Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching [and quantum physics] inspired ‘balanced approach to change’. (BTFA = Believe-Think-Feel-Act©). In another language, we might think of it as the balance between addressing Muda only and dressing Muri and Mura with wisdom while addressing Muda.

    I draw our model as a circle, blended with PDCA at the word ‘Act’, such that it looks like PDCA-AFTB©. BTFA© embodies many years of study and sums up Cognitive Behavioural and Perceptual Control principles, running in both directions to reflect the top-down / bottom-up and outside-in / inside-out sensory stimulus and imagination centered imprinting methods the human brain develops and utilises as it’s default ‘go-to’ response in terms of defence mechanisms and coping strategies within the prevailing conditions it finds itself.

    This model breaks down further using EEEL© and PRESS© models to deliver a working definition of organisational culture which accelerates leaders perceptions of ‘What works’ and ‘what doesn’t’, to transform what is their currently imprinted ‘belief’ … thus addressing root cause of ‘Action’ and behaviour on the Humanitarian / emotional intelligence side of the organisational development coin … such that it integrates practically with teh globally popular project management approach. BTFA© – if you change the belief, you change the behaviour much quicker than if you change the behaviour to effect belief (As the latter runs into a host of psychological issues which can easily see people dig their heels in and hold onto previous beliefs for decades, seeing change initiatives slip as soon as the ‘Fear / threat’ based control influence is removed from the social construct).

    So, in summary – I’m with you, but let’s look toward a more informed future rather than revisiting the past 🙂

    • Bob Emiliani says:

      My PDCA image was meant as a commentary on the gap between what is espoused by the Lean cognoscenti and what they actually do.

      I agree that the early visitors to Toyota missed the interconnectedness of the technical system with humans. The fragmenting has led to the confusing “failure-update-re-branding” cycle that seems to do more harm than good, as people lose patience with the many cycles to “get it right.”

      I also agree that the project management approach (and PM mind) is completely flawed, and indicates a massive failure to think what PM is good for and what it is not good for.

      It seems that even though the knowledge and information exists to do better, widespread recognition and incorporation into the collective mind of organizations lags by decades.

      I don’t think Gilbreth distanced himself from Taylor until after 1914. See Primer of Scientific Management (Gilbreth, 1914).

      As you say, “…if you change the belief, you change the behaviour much quicker than if you change the behaviour to effect belief.” This came to me as well around 2001 or 2002, and I soon thereafter published papers highlighting this relationship: Beliefs –> Behaviors –> Competencies. The papers are “Linking Leaders’ Beliefs to their Behaviors and Competencies” (2003) and “Using Value Stream Maps to Improve Leadership” (2004). It’s also in my workbook, Practical Lean Leadership.

      It seems we are on a similar wavelength. Perhaps there is a point of collaboration here. We should talk offline.

      Finally, I agree that we must move towards an informed future. Yet, as history seems to repeat itself, I think it wise to revisit the past to shape the future towards achieving more successful outcomes.

  7. David Bovis says:

    I think you are right, definitely time to talk and explore ways to deliver a deeper approach to leaders interested in becoming Lean.
    I look forward to arranging a time to talk.
    Speak soon.

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