How Specific an Example Do You Need?

From the Northwest Lean Network email listserv, about a week ago:

” I am looking for experiences using lean practices and tools in fruit juice businesses.”

I’ve seen a lot of this, people asking for very specific examples of lean practices for their exact specific sub-industry for a specific type of customer. What if someone volunteered a vegetable juice producer? Sorry, not a close enough match?

It’s OK to learn from others, but as long as you aren’t trying to just copy practices without understanding Lean. GM tried learning Lean from Toyota… the businesses were too similar, GM saw things (through the filter of their own business) — or they didn’t see things — and ended up copying certain Lean practices while missing most of the picture. And we see how that’s working out for them.

One reason I think healthcare is doing well with Lean is that they’ve had to learn CONCEPTUAL Lean and TPS and then had to figure out how to apply it. I’m afraid that as we get more hospitals doing Lean, they’ll only want to learn Lean from other hospitals and they’ll start copying. Learning from others is good, if it drives you to figure it out yourself. Copying is a shortcut, but might not serve you well in the long term.

At a high enough level, Lean is Lean. Sure, aerospace Lean is slightly different than automotive lean (product cycles are different, volumes are different, customer/supplier/producer dynamics are different, etc. etc. etc.).

But “eliminating waste” and “respect for people” are pretty universal concepts that you can apply anywhere. Who cares if that other fruit juice producer did 5S first, then implemented standard work? Maybe they never did Lean well, why would you look to copy from someone exactly like you? I guess that’s some people’s comfort levels. Our business is unique… that’s true, every business is unique on some level. But looking for that “mirror image” to benchmark is too often an excuse of why Lean doesn’t work for us.

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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 book 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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4 Comments

  1. JWDT says

    Thanks for posting this story, this is something that I have noticed as well lately.

    My guess is the employers searching for the candidates really do not understand nor appreciate what they are truly looking for.

    From what I have noticed lately, it is the Healthcare Sector that seems to post the most specific Help Wanted Ads. Maybe we should start a contest for the most specific & unrealistic help wanted ad? We could all post for the job just to educate them…lol

  2. Mike Lopez says

    I think that these companies are searching for people who know the culture and the tools. They don’t want a person with no knowledge of their industry to come in and start proclaiming change after change. In the science world, you have to be part of the club or no one will listen to you or take you seriously. Surely, the healthcare industry is very similar. Highly educated people tend to only trust other highly educated people. I’m not saying it is right. That is just how it is.

  3. Mark Graban says

    The context of the original post wasn’t that the person wanted to hire someone with that specific experience, they just wanted stories and examples of lean in their own industry.

    But I know the same thing DOES happen in hiring searches and is sometimes just as silly. Industry knowledge can be good, but an outsider’s perspective can be helpful in different ways.

  4. Rich says

    Great Post! I have had many over the years ask for specific examples from their same industry because of an underlying belief that “we are different” or “doesn’t work here.” When I have someone declare that it is a waste of time to learn about Toyota because “they build cars and we don’t” I know I have a challenge (or God forbid a “concrete head”) on my hands. I have never taken a group on a tour of Toyota’s plant in Georgetown, KY and not had them walk away excited about things they saw that can make our business better.

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