Lean in the USA Today

Toyota’s success pleases proponents of ‘lean’

I know I’ve already linked to this article and other blogs in the lean world have already commented on it, but I have a few other comments.

The publicity about Toyota becoming No. 1 will create another burst of energy to lean, even though a survey by management consulting firm Bain shows that just 19% of companies that have tried it are happy with the results, says Mark Gottfredson, Bain’s head of performance improvement.

So the irony of this news is that lean is more likely to become the new “flavor of the month” at companies… therefore keeping that 19% rate constant (or dropping it) if more companies implement superficial lean (“fake lean” as Bob Emiliani calls it or “L.A.M.E.” as I call it). More companies will try 5S and say “we’re doing lean,” then they’ll be disappointed with the results, or they’ll lay off employees, etc. They’ll say “lean didn’t work for us” and the predictable pattern follows.

Lean’s move into the service sector has created big demand for statistical experts with a nose for waste. Those willing to jump from manufacturing companies to hospitals or banks are getting pay raises of 30% to 40%, compared with 20% raises moving from one manufacturing company to another, says Jake Stiles, president of an executive search firm that has concentrated exclusively for 15 years on finding lean-regime experts.

“There is a whole industry luring away Toyota and General Electric people,” Gottfredson says.

What do Six Sigma and GE have to do with Lean and Toyota? There’s absolutely ZERO reason to bring up Six Sigma in an article about Toyota. I’ve heard Toyota people say they don’t have a “Six Sigma” program. They might use some statistical methods, but it’s not Six Sigma (Toyota definitely isn’t firing 10% of their workforce each year). GE is just scratching the surface with Lean methods, or so I hear.

Purists differentiate between lean and Six Sigma. They say that lean seeks to eliminate waste, while Six Sigma focuses on quality and defects. But quality and waste often go hand in hand, and most experts today practice LSS, or lean and Six Sigma together.

I get frustrated when people think lean is only about reducing waste or improving flow. Quality is one of the key goals of a lean system (defects are a type of waste and reducing them certainly improves flow). Jidoka, or quality at the source, is one of the two pillars of TPS, along with Just-In-Time (flow). How do so many people misunderstand that? You don’t NEED Six Sigma to work on quality, lean is all about quality as well, but without the statistical focus. Do you want a team of Black Belt experts analyzing your problems to death or do you want the people actually doing the work driving kaizen and error proofing? I’d prefer lean for all but the most unsolvable problems.

To succeed, LSS requires a major commitment, Mairani says. It often fails because, “Authors write a book. Senior managers read them and decide to do this stuff with minimal training.”

Gottfredson says that if four in five companies remain dissatisfied, LSS may fall from favor and go down as the latest fad. But something much the same will replace it. It will just have a new moniker, Gottfredson says.

Somehow, an article about Toyota and lean morphed into an article about “Lean Six Sigma.” The fad goes away and it will come back with a new name. Sigh, the cycle continues.

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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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3 Comments on "Lean in the USA Today"

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  1. Ron Pereira says:

    Mark wrote, Do you want a team of Black Belt experts analyzing your problems to death or do you want the people actually doing the work driving kaizen and error proofing?”

    My response, as a Six Sigma Master Black Belt, is one word. OK, two words.

    Amen, brother.

  2. John says:

    Points from someone who has seen companies make life better with this thing called Lean Six Sigma:

    – Six Sigma/LSS has nothing to do with firing 10% of your workforce; that’s a silly practice of GE, the Army, and other companies beholden to ancient practice.

    – Toyota doesn’t need anything except Lean, but guess what? A lot of other companies do. They have no idea how to effect cultural transformation, dedicate sufficient effort to change, or apply the scientific method to solve problems. If they “need” something for their legions of overpromoted liberal arts majors to help bridge the gap, and LSS serves the purpose, then why not?

    – LSS done right does not consist of experts analyzing a problem to death. It does consist of teams – that include the people doing the work – improving processes with Kaizen and error-proofing as appropriate. Rarely do “advanced” statistics come into play, but sometimes they do once the team has removed the NVA and wants to better understand process dynamics.

    – In a perfect world, we would not have programs but the world is far from perfect. Managers can use anything that helps them leverage their efforts to train their people and smartly manage processes. Which do we choose – Doing nothing? Seeking some sort of pure Lean nirvana that few public corps will ever achieve? Or do we look to realize benefits knowing that our methodology will someday be replaced by something better? Waves in the ocean aren’t so bad…

    This is certainly my favorite blog on things Lean. Please don’t let it follow too far the familiar refrain of Lean Dragon Master vs. Quality Nerd.

  3. Mark Graban says:

    Thanks for the intelligent comments, John. I’m not “anti-Six Sigma” or at least I hope it didn’t come across that way.

    In the context of this USA Today article, it was inappropriate of the reporter to even bring Six Sigma into it. The reporter could have talked to Toyota execs all day and never heard anything about Six Sigma or GE.

    It’s also a huge pet peeve of mine that Lean isn’t considered a quality improvement method. That’s not just the reporter’s fault. Many Six Sigma advocates like to carve out their space as the quality saviors.

    That said, I’ve probably seen more ineffective Six Sigma work than ineffective Lean work during my career. There’s bad Lean and there’s bad Six Sigma implementation work (and bad leadership). That doesn’t mean we should throw either approach out.

    I’m not suggesting companies do nothing. We should all apply tools and methods that work, for our cultures. None of us are Toyota, other than Toyota, and none of us are GE, other than GE. We need to quit copying tools and do what works, for the right results (customers, employees, and company).

    Thanks for reading, thanks for your thoughtful comments, and I’ll hope you’ll come back for both reading and contributing.

    Best,
    Mark

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