Lean Manufacturing

Scientific Management 2.0

By Jon Miller Updated on May 20th, 2017

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 [3], 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 [4] 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?

  1. Bob Emiliani

    November 11, 2009 - 2:05 pm

    Hi Jon – I suspect that most practitioners of conventional management will argue that their system is also supported by scientific proofs and theorems. They will no doubt cite business statistics (i.e. data-driven decision-making), EOQ, operations research (MRP, logistics), cost accounting, and performance metrics such as purchase price variance, earned hours, etc. This adds greatly to our challenge.
    Also, in Taylor’s era, “Respect for People” was understood in a much more limited way as simply “cooperation.” Taylor’s clearest explanation of what he meant by “cooperation” can be found in his 1912 testimony to Congress (“Taylor’s Testimony Before the Special House Committee” in Scientific Management: Comprising Shop Management, Principles of Scientific Management, Testimony Before the House Committee, F.W. Taylor, with foreword by Harlow S. Person, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York, NY, 1947, p. 31 and pp. 30 and 62):
    “…the first step towards scientific management… [a] complete change in the mental attitude of both sides [labor and management]; of the substitution of peace for war; the substitution of hearty brotherly cooperation for contention and strife; of both pulling hard in the same direction instead of pulling apart; of replacing suspicious watchfulness with mutual confidence; of becoming friends instead of enemies…is the very essence of scientific management, and scientific management exists nowhere until after this has become the central idea… the mechanism [tools] is nothing if you have not got the right sentiment…”
    The last line is particularly interesting and parallels our understanding of Lean management today: the tools are nothing if you don’t practice the “Respect for People” principle.
    It should also be noted that Frank Woollard’s conceptualization of “Respect for People” (circa 1925) had evolved and was more advanced than Taylor’s, and characterized as “benefit for all.” His eighteenth principle, “benefit for all,” stated (Principles of Mass and Flow Production, 55th Anniversary Special Reprint Edition, 2009, p. 51 and 180):
    “The system of production must benefit everyone – customers, workers and owners,” and he further said “This principle of ‘benefit for all’ is not based on altruistic ideals – much as these are to be admired – but upon the hard facts of business efficiency.”
    And we know about Toyota’s conceptualization of the “Respect for People” principle. This is a nice, orderly evolution in thinking and practice that one would hope to see. As a result, our understanding of the “Respect for People” principle is today much broader and deeper.
    Scientific Management 2.0? I think it would be very difficult to overcome the deeply ingrained negative views of Scientific Management. As I see it, the essence of management systems and methods to improve, to the overcome status quo, is progressive management. But the word “progressive” also carries a lot of baggage socially, politically, and economically.
    We are clearly in dire need of professional marketing.

  2. Jamie Flinchbaugh

    November 11, 2009 - 4:57 pm

    Great pitch Jon. I think you’re right in principle, but of course getting from here to there is the challenge.
    One thing that the lean community does that gets in the way is that we feel we must control the message (and the name and the language and everything else) that we don’t give it a chance to catch on. If a leader gives it a genuine shot but doesn’t get it quite right, the lean folks jump down their throats and throw them under the bus. I think folks have to be more forgiving of people that are making an effort. They won’t use all the right words; or at least they may not use “your” right words, but that’s OK. Practice what I call relentless patience – be relentless against people not even on the path, and patient with those on it who haven’t quite reach the destination. I know I haven’t reached the destination yet.
    Jamie Flinchbaugh

  3. Bryan Lund

    November 11, 2009 - 8:21 pm

    Hi Jon,
    At the risk of sounding non-scientific, scientific Management 2.0 may have began with the Gilbreths, Mogensen, Knoeppel, Morris, etc. during the early twentieth century after Taylor gained notoriety for the movement. It could be argued that we beta tested SM 2.1 during the WWII production era with TWI, distilling all of the previous I.E., human relations and instruction work down into something that every person could use. Toyota took it all to the next level and created Scientific Management 3.0, not only taking a radical approach to operations management using sound scientific management principles, but institutionalizing an even older concept – Respect for People. Most people missed that part, but they caught onto things like JIT and quality circles. Once people caught onto those tangible management concepts, a flurry of marketing occurred: new releases and add-on patches were brought to market for the Scientific Management crowd: TQC, TQM, Six Sigma, etc., but nothing really new. In short, we are still tinkering with SM, releasing newer add-ons like Lean Accounting, Lean Construction and Lean Aquarium Franchise Ownership. I’m afraid this will go on for quite some time.
    The problem with the next release is that no matter how we slice it, people are looking for something rehashed, repackaged and at least appearing new, they do not want something old. They want something that doesn’t require ideals or principles, something that makes them declare: “This makes me uncomfortable, I cannot ignore this, I will do something about it.”
    Old, proven principles often humble us, and since we don’t like to be humbled, we pretend out loud that these old proven concepts insult our intelligence. “After all, they didn’t teach me this TWI stuff in school, did they? How good can it be, really? No thank you, I will trust my quarter of a million dollar business degree thank you. I’m going to look forward, you keep looking back towards the past you Lean guys!”
    So, I’m afraid the challenge here is how to package bonehead simple principles and concepts yet teach humble people how to apply them in an infinitely complex world, unleashing their intrinsic creativity…and when I say humble, I don’t mean meek. I mean people who learn how to learn, and admit when they don’t know something.
    It’s like art. Everybody says that leadership is like art. But it isn’t really. Even (good) artists need to learn and practice brushstrokes. They need to learn how to mix colors and apply texture. This is analogous to standard work, or coaching, or instruction, or anything we do in organizations where we need to master small innocuous tasks, that when coupled together – create something very valuable. It is at this point, the master exploits his skills and creates his masterpiece – something better than all of the rest – out of pure creativity. Leaders are obligated to teach others this set of skills. A great book about this is “Seeing David in the Stone”.

  4. Rob

    November 12, 2009 - 5:38 am

    You make some good points here. I think the main failing when you view Lean as an outsider is that it all seems to be about:
    * the use of tools,
    * cost reduction, and
    * once you “do” Lean, the benefits stick.
    As we know, this just isn’t true.
    The overall philosophy tends to be missed. We need more Lean Leaders who spend some time focusing on the adherence to the Lean process, and noting the improvement opportunities such focus reveals.
    Lean conversions require a consistent Lean management approach. Sustained Lean success requires a change in mindset and behavior among leadership, and then gradually throughout the organization. Lean success occurs when senior leaders put appropriate structures and processes in place and get personally involved in sustaining the Lean conversions, learning Lean, and developing other Lean thinking leaders throughout the enterprise.
    Lean management is surprisingly different from conventional leadership practices. It emphasizes visibly observable discipline and accountability. Unlike other approaches to improvement, these cannot be delegated. Lean provides the templates and practices that enable leaders to learn, and then look for, ask about, and reinforce the leadership behaviors that sustain the gains.
    I’m not sure if we can get policy makers to adopt the Lean philosophy when there’s still so much to do at an industrial level?

  5. Isaac D. Curtis

    November 12, 2009 - 10:20 am

    Including your blog, there are 28 blogs listed on this site. That means 28 brilliant lean minds getting the message out. What about a meeting of the minds (a lean blog/thinker convention, if you will) that is broadcast via the web and also packaged so that it could be sent to the addministration, leading university professors/lecturers/economists, and the mainstream media? With enough teamwork anything is possible!

  6. Jack Parsons

    November 13, 2009 - 5:53 am

    The name of Scientific Management leaves out the leadership and people aspect of the lean approach, i.e., engaging the minds, hands and hearts. People at all levels in the organization do not want to feel like they are being manipulated scientifically even if it supposed to be for the good of everyone. Names carry meanings. I am sure that Womack and his group would choose a name other than “lean” if they could do it all over. You are trying to appeal to a broader cross section of decision makers in our society, but you can not forget that folks in all levels of the organization want a value proposition, not just the top elite managers. Could it be that lean does not catch on because on the surface it appears too simple?

  7. Jon Miller

    November 16, 2009 - 2:24 am

    Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments. From the quality of the thought it is clear that this an issue that has some relevance and meaning.
    I read many articles and pitches each year about “beyond lean” and yet none of those even actually attain lean. They are well-intentioned (or perhaps just PR pieces for a particular product or service) but clearly in either case there is a perceived need to go beyond the term lean in order to sell it more widely.
    This is where made-up words and even foreign words can come in handy. Maybe we should start a competition to find the best name to rebrand lean management in a way that will have the broadest appeal while maintaining its integrity?

  8. Rob

    November 20, 2009 - 2:09 pm

    Isaac has come up with an interesting idea. Sort of a lean/quality/six-sigma online super-brain!

Have something to say?

Leave your comment and let's talk!

Start your Lean & Six Sigma training today.