I spoke at a Lean Six Sigma conference last week, held in Chicago and you can get my presentation on Integrating Lean and Six Sigma here. The conference was packed with Supply Chain, Logistics, Fulfillment, Manufacturing, Transportation, Healthcare, and Service executives.
During the conference, I heard a lot of chest-beating, neutron-jack-welch type of comments and also a lot of focus and emphasis on the “tools” of Operational Excellence. I truly found this part to be quite disappointing, given that the audience and speakers were mostly executives from large Fortune 500 companies.
If you want your lean and six sigma program to fail, then focus on the tools.
I thought and expected that people knew better but that’s okay — this represents a challenge and opportunity to do good.
How has Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma gotten to the point where it has forgotten its roots and become a subculture all in itself? Lean Manufacturing hinges upon 2 pillars — (1) Respect for People and (2) Continuous Improvement. Why do people focus on (2), but completely forget (1) Respect for People?
Mark coined the term L.A.M.E a while ago and I mostly agree with it. One aspect I’d add is that the term ‘misguided’ also applies to an overfocus to one dimension of Lean and forgetting the other dimensions. The ironic thing about this is that each dimension of Lean actually supports each other and WAS built from each other.
Another thing as way of background: the work ‘Lean’ was a term coined by MIT’s International Motor Vehicle Program, led by Jim Womack. The term was coined to explain how Toyota got by with “half of everything” — how they did so much with so little — fewer people, less space, less inventory, less effort, less safety incidences, less defects, and less capital investment and cash.
I hear people use “Toyota Production System” and “Lean” separately. In fact, during the conference I heard a number of people say things such as “We use Lean, Six Sigma, and The Toyota Production System.” That’s like saying “I drink water, liquid, and H2O”.
Toyota describes its system as a combination of (a) Philosophy, (b) Management, and (c) Technical. Each was built upon the other and exist to support each other.
For example, some people consider ‘Kaizen’ a tool, often referring to this as ‘Kaizen Blitz’ (which is really ‘Jishuken’, but people confuse the two), which is a team-based, rapid activity that explores a production line or problems in an operation, drive to root causes, and then brainstorm countermeasures to reduce or eliminate those root causes.
What most folks forget is that ‘Kaizen’ was truly build upon the philosophy that “Toyota builds people and then cars” — that is, Kaizen came from the notion that the collective intelligence of your line workers is valuable and that people, if given the training and the chance, can truly do amazing things. This is an example where the Technical came from Philosophy — the tools and methods used in Kaizen are supported and even stems from the Philosophy of ‘Respect for People’.
Good Leadership versus Just Tools
I’d venture to say that if there is good, visionary leadership in place, then I’d take that over any ‘Tool’. But, that is the elegance of the Toyota Way that most people don’t know, understand, or convienently forget: true Lean Manufacturing hinges upon building Leaders throughout the company — people who know and live the principles of Operational Excellence and also know how to apply the Tools that support those Principles.
It is possible to implement a tool like Kaizen or suggestion boxes, but if your organization doesn’t respect people or if participative management is not valued, then your Kaizen activities will be mute and your suggestion boxes will be empty.
sidenote: here are a few articles on leadership —
- Overmanaged and Underled
- Colin Power on Leadership
- Team or Staff?
- Tipping-Point Leadership
- Abraham Lincoln on Leadership
- How to transform an Organization: Chime-in Before Buy-in
The Andon of Fear
Here’s another illustration of the subtle, but important difference between Respect for People and Tools.
An Andon is a cord that hangs on both sides of a production line. It is to be ‘pulled’ when a problem happens on the line and, when pulled, the line stops. The activity that ensues should be that the team gathers together, conducts root cause analysis (5-why’s), implements countermeasures, then the line start again.
Now, suppose your organization breeds fear in its people and that questioning the status quo is viewed as bad. In this type of environment, implementing the ‘tool’ of an andon cord will not work. The principles at play here are the following:
- Speak-up if you see a problem
- Don’t pass problems up or down the value chain
- Improve the way you work, the service, and the product
- There is an end-customer, but the person upstream and downstream from you is also your customer
If an organization doesn’t subscribe to these basic principles, then no matter how many Andon Cords are available at your company — nobody will pull them.
Emulating Gary Convis
Gary Convis was recently brought in to be the CEO of Dana Corporation (DAN), an $8.7 Billion manufacturer of auto parts. Convis is a 40 year veteran of the auto industry and a former executive at Toyota. Dana Corporation is a struggling giant, currently in bankruptcy. When asked what words of wisdom he has to impart to his new team members at Dana Corporation, he said this:
“manage as if you have no power”
For me, that statement elegantly summarizes the the essence of Lean Manufacturing: we teach people principles and the tools that support those principles, then we coach, teach, provide leadership, and trust them to do the right thing.
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Mark Graban says
That really is disappointing that there’s so much focus on tools. You just sparked my brain — I know EXACTLY what topic to submit to a few conferences and seminars… the topic that Lean (especially in healthcare) is NOT just tools… it’s about people.
I hope your talk went well. Are you able to share slides online in some form??
Dike Drummond says
LEAN is about People First and the amazing things they can do when the Leader simply asks the powerful questions … rather than telling them what to do or leaning WAY to hard on technical “tools”.
We teach team facilitation skills to Black Belts at a major institution and believe it when we say LEAN is the Ferrari of Process Improvement but without leadership and facilitation skills to grow your people and teams … it is as if you have never been taught how to drive.
Keep spreading the People First message …. LEAN not LAME.
Great post Peter. I think the problem stems from management being too distanced from the workers. Most people don’t understand and don’t care how important the individual worker on the “line” truly is so we don’t include them in our decision making.
We (as Americans) love our technology and our tools and tend to look at them as the “end all be all” and as stand alone solutions. Involving the workers does not seem to be high tech enough for our managers.