Executives Must Stop Jumping From Fad to Fad

WSJ.com – In the Lead ($$)

The entire headline is “Executives Must Stop Jumping From Fad to Fad and Learn to Manage.” Amen.

Excellent column in the WSJ saying that we need to avoid being “copycat managers.” The “program of the month” isn’t exactly a new concept, it’s hardly a groundbreaking idea to rail against that.

“Some ideas, of course, will never go out of style. W. Edward Deming’s advice to companies to “drive out fear” so managers can act on what they know, admit what they don’t know and change decisions that aren’t working, is just one example of an idea as relevant today as when first proposed nearly a quarter of a century ago.

But even in this case, a 1990s reinvention of Mr. Deming’s total-quality movement in manufacturing, called Six Sigma, improved efficiency at scores of plants, but couldn’t help companies meet another great need — more innovation.”

If you extend the Deming philosophy also to lean (Toyota learned a great deal from Deming), I’d have to question the idea that you can’t have innovation with Lean or Six Sigma. Sure, Toyota is a conservative company, but how do you get the Toyota Prius without being able to do innovation?

I’ll add some comments about copycat-ing and lean. Sometimes, numbers are published that say “50% of auto suppliers are talking lean, but 2% are doing it” (attributed to Jeff Liker). Why is that? I bet the “talking” lean crew are the copycats.

If your motivation for lean is to be like Toyota or to copy some other company, you’re probably doomed. Toyota learned from Ford and others, but what was their motivation? Their motivation was to solve problems they were facing in their business. Kanban, Heijunka, SMED, all of these concepts were created to solve a problem THEY had.

I’d recommend that, if you’re trying to do lean, learn from Toyota and learn from companies that have gotten far down the lean transformation path. Then, apply the concepts and tools to your business, to solve problems you have and to eliminate waste that you have.

If you’re just copying Toyota because it’s trendy or it sounds good or everyone in your industry is going it…. you’re bound to give up and move on to the next hot trend.

Please don’t do lean because it’s trendy. You’ll only hurt the reputation of lean and spread this “it didn’t work here” malarky.

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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