Bob Emiliani wrote a thoughtful call to arms piece in the Superfactory articles section this week. Enticingly titled Free Money, Free Love it predictably delivers neither of those things. Instead Bob makes a case for the need for the lean manufacturing community to promote the message of lean as a new and more progressive management style, and to promote it in a more effective way.
We must prepare anew for the incredible mountain ahead of us. I propose a fundamental re-thinking of the Lean community’s “go to market” strategies and tactics – especially in light of Toyota’s recent stumble , which only strengthens the positions of the legions of managers who support “settled business.”
It seems, at a minimum, that we must work together much more closely, better utilize available resources, and strive to have an impact on policy at the national level. This means that we must spend more time together planning so that execution is more focused and, ultimately, more successful, and so that our Lean stories inspire others and instill confidence.
It also means that we need to get influential economists, from the left, middle, and right, to deeply understand flow  because that is who top executives listen to.
The challenge is really two-fold; first we need to raise awareness since the majority of the world has not heard of lean, and second we need to help those who have heard but not adopted to overcome resistance to change. In order for people to adopt a different way of working, managing and ultimately thinking, the tendency to stick with what is known and comfortable needs to be addressed, and this is Bob Emiliani’s point.
What advocates of progressive management have long recognized is that unlike the law, these precedents are non-binding – even though executives and other stakeholders may see them as binding (in part due the inaccurate perception of high switching costs). Since most, if not all of the precedents related to conventional management are non-binding, they can indeed be changed.
While I agree with the premise, I would propose that we need to look at this issue from a different angle. We need to make the packaging of the message more attractive. Maybe the messengers also, but lean manufacturing is too middle-of-the road idea to be taken seriously at a national or even global policy level. On the one hand ridiculously simple ideas like “Getting Things Done” can become extremely popular, though limited in scope compared to an overall management / improvement system like lean. On the other hand we can give it a much grander title, packaging and positioning like “global warming” in a way that get’s everyone’s attention. “Global wasting” anyone? I didn’t think so. We need packaging that is more appealing for this bag of tricks we call lean.
One hundred years ago Frederick Taylor was the leading industrial guru for inventing Scientific Management. Although it is a historically important precursor to both industrial engineering and modern industrial management, there is much to dislike about scientific management, namely that it wasn’t all that objectively scientific and that it lacked a certain respect for people. However we can build on what Taylor started. Let’s not call it neo-Taylorism, however. What we are talking about in the broadest sense is recasting of lean manufacturing / lean healthcare / lean office / the Toyota Production System and its related and supporting disciplines as the new science of management.
Unlike the “stare decisis” of law (stand by what has been previously decided) or what Bob Emiliani calls “settled business” which are essentially man-made rules,lean manufacturing and the Toyota Production System are supported by scientific proof and theorems. There are studies that show intrinsic motivation (autonomy, mastery, purpose) is more powerful than extrinsic motivation (money). The Heinrich principle tells us why it’s a good idea to catch (safety) problems early, when they are still near misses. There is queuing theory and Little’s Law to establish the relationship between batching and lead times. Six sigma uses statistics to great advantage through vector analysis, design of experiments and other means to separate correlation and causation from opinion and chance. The problem solving process based on the PDCA cycle and hypothesis testing is the scientific method itself. Look for science within lean and you’ll find it’s all about science.
As Bob said, we can and should appeal to economists, policy makers and leaders of our communities so that we can help them appreciate power of kaizen and respect for people. Whether or not we need to do this as a lean community, or using the lean tag is a matter of opinion. Almost every new management fad has been replaced to a greater lesser degree by the next one. We started scientific management, the Ford system, TWI (forgotten and found again), TQC, TQM, reengineering, six sigma, lean and who knows what next. We should take the best of all of these proven methods, remove the marketing labels to reveal their essence, and repackage them in an appealing way that doesn’t compromise its integrity. Is it time for Scientific Management 2.0?