Gary Hamel on Lean

It is fascinating to see how broadly people are studying lean. Here is an example given by innovation and management guru Gary Hamel. He was giving an interview on management innovation and here is what he said about TPS:

Could you give an example of management innovation in the workplace?

Toyota’s lean manufacturing. At one level, you can say that lean manufacturing is predominately an operational innovation. But what sits a level or two above the operational changes is the radical management idea that there could be a positive return on investment through using the problem-solving skills of your employees.

A few decades ago, if there was an efficiency or quality problem in the business, companies sent in staff experts. They studied the system, and then rewrote the standard operating procedures. And the employees were asked to conform to those procedures.

The idea that a company would actually give its employees the responsibility for making those changes, that was just unthinkable. So, what looks like a purely operational innovation through one lens, actually turns out to stem from a radical new management principle.

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Jamie Flinchbaugh is a lean advisor, speaker, and author. In addition to co-founding the Lean Learning Center, he has helped build nearly 20 companies as either a co-founder, board member, advisor, or angel investor. These companies range from high-performance motorcycles to SaaS tools for continuous improvement. He has advised over 300 companies around the world in lean transformation, including Intel, Harley-Davidson, Crayola, BMW, and Amazon. Jamie co-authored the popular book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean, and continues to share his experiences as a Contributing Editor forIndustryWeek and as a blogger at He holds degrees from Lehigh University, University of Michigan, and MIT, and continues to teach and mentor on campus. Jamie is best known for helping to transform how we think about lean from a tools-centric model to one based on principles and behaviors. His passion for lean transformation comes from seeking to unlock the great potential that people possess to build inspiring organizations.

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  1. Bill Waddell says

    I know I have beaten this horse far past the point of death, but if Mr. Hamel does not urge companies to adopt a lean economic model, then his ‘radical new management principle’ will not accomplish much. In the traditional scheme, ‘improvement’ is almost synonymous with labor efficiency increases. In a lean environment, improvement centers around cycle time compression and totla cost reduction. Having the construction foremen turn the thinking over to the most brillian set of carpenters will not result in a good house if they are all working with the wrong set of blueprints. My cynical attitude toward ‘gurus’ such as Mr. Hamel stems from the fact that, while inspirational and reasonably accurate within a certain context, their advice typically reflects a failure to really understand the economic principles that drive manufacturing management.

  2. Mark Graban says

    I disagree with your attack on Mr. Hamel. Like it or not, he is very influential in the MBA and executive world. At least he is saying positive things about lean. He might only have a partial picture of lean (or only articulated a partial view of lean), but I can’t say anything he said was wrong or offensive. He didn’t say something dumb like “lean is dead, you should build everything in China”.

    Not everyone can be a perfect total expert on lean. I try not to attack those who at least support lean and give it positive reviews to others.

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