Bob Emiliani is the author of ten books, six of them in the Real Lean series. The most recent title Moving Forward Faster: The Mental Evolution from Fake Lean to REAL Lean is an executive summary of these six books. It is 100 pages, about half of which is the core message structured around 40 pages of bullets on four themes to aid in the “mental evolution” of executives towards real lean thinking. The remaining pages are closing thoughts, next steps and rich appendices.
The lean management system is, in Bob Emiliani’s words, “a non-zero-sum principle-based management system focused on creating value for end-use customers and eliminating waste, unevenness, and unreasonableness using the scientific method.” His Real Lean series of books makes its greatest contribution in stressing the Respect for People principle as the least appreciated and least practiced by executives. The Moving Forward Faster book is best read as an introduction to Bob’s thinking, and as a reference for diving deeper into his ideas.
Across four chapters Bob debunks 85 commonly held beliefs in the Economic, Social, Political (organizational) and History arenas. Each of these ideas are explained using as few as two and as many as nine bullet points. The sheer number of bullet points across the 40 pages will leave one dizzy if the four chapters are are read in one go. It is possible to open the book at almost any point, read a few sentences, nod in agreement or shake our heads in recognition of fake lean behaviors within our own organizations.
In the section on Economic ideas, Bob asks “Where are the lean economists?” and points out that economics is a social science rather that a hard science like physics or mathematics, and that formal root cause analysis is never used to discern sources of failure of economic theories. This is a big idea, considering that some of the most important decisions in our lives vis a vis our life in “the economy” are influence by social scientists who never practice root cause analysis. In any case some of the most interesting and important ideas are in this section. Here is a sampling of the gems.
E10 – Short-term financial focus
When do you plan on going out of business? If the answer is never, then why have a strong short-term focus?
It’s a great point, but misses the fact that executives many times aren’t thinking at all about business continuity or the long-term because that is not what they are rewarded for or paid to do. Or perhaps it is not a rhetorical question but an invitation to the reader to list their reasons.
E16 – Fixation on unit costs and unit prices.
Executives say: “Every cost element a company faces needs to be examined.” Executives should instead say: “Every process a company uses needs to be examined.” Costs are subordinate to processes.
And Taiicho Ohno said, “Costs do not exist to be calculated. Costs exist to be reduced.”
E20 – Cost is not real if it is not on a spreadsheet.
Cost = measured cost + unmeasured cost. Unmeasured cost is always greater than zero. Just because some costs do not show up on a spreadsheet does not mean they do not exist.
Taiichi Ohno would have gone to the gemba to see the costs, never to a spreadsheet. Anyone bringing him a spreadsheet would have soon found themselves standing in a circle.
E24 – Must grow at double-digit rates.
Strive for stable long-term growth: 2-3 percent annual growth.
The percentage for stable long-term growth of an organization’s revenue would seem to depend on various factors including competition, the available local market, disruptive innovations reducing revenue from existing products, changes in demographics leading to changes in organic demand, changes in tax rates, rate of inflation in fixed and variable costs, etc. Granted that Bob Emiliani starts out by saying that economics is a social science and not one that is build on fact-based confirmation of theories, this theory or claim of 2-3 percent being an adequate growth rate begs further explanation, perhaps found in one of the Real Lean books.
The section on Social Ideas that Must Diminish or be Eliminated puts various universal organizational principles in context of how misguided executive thinking can cause lean failures. These ideas include but are not limited to misconceptions about teamwork versus individualism, blaming people, standardization, job descriptions, excessive gaps in compensation, excessive gaps between words and actions, and the focus for executives on learning rather than having answers. This may be the most accessible chapter, dealing largely with actionable personal behaviors or beliefs of executives, such as:
S12 – Leaders are smarter than followers.
Leaders know much less than they think because information is highly filtered to deliver only good news.
In the Politics section Bob makes a case for executives to eliminate organization politics in that this enables a freer flow of material and information, resulting in better decisions, actions and results. The section on History is almost entirely a list of non-lean behaviors of managers, centering around the failure to listen to stakeholders, attempt to solve problems at the root cause level, and to learn.
The four Appendices sections are definitely not to be skipped over. In fact, they could easily have been within the main flow of the book, rather than at the end. The notion of Feral Managers may offend some readers who recognize these traits in themselves, but everyone has met at least one wild, out-of-control executive, and we could all do with fewer. The assessment form and instructions in Appendix IV is a good opportunity for self-examination by executives and organizations, from a behavioral and mental angle, as opposed to the typical tool or system-based lean assessment. Designed as a “failure analysis” method, Bob Emiliani shared with me that it was intended as an aid in reducing human suffering.
It was a challenging book at first reading because of its structure. However on second reading, 8 months later, the content proved solid and durable, begging further description and discussion. Luckily for that purpose, we have Real Lean volumes 1 through 6.
The target audience is executives, however it is far more likely that this book will be read by non-executives, if only for the simple reason that there are far more of them in the world. For the open-minded executive this book offers many challenges to firmly held notions of economics, history, politics and society that guide but limit the organization’s performance. The book invites the reader to understand why these ideas are contrary to “real lean”. For the non-executive reader, it provides a glimpse into many of the principles that govern why corporations and executives do many things that are contrary to a lean culture.