Two Cases of Writers Misrepresenting Lean Manufacturing
One example is a news writer who mistakenly equates Lean with the dumbing down of work at McDonald’s and the other piece is a book review that claims Lean is “dehumanizing.” Neither could be further from the truth. Both articles show, in a way, the ongoing awareness challenge that we still have about educating the world about how Lean is different than the century-old ideas of Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford.
This International Business Times article about McDonald’s confuses Lean with old-fashioned Taylorism. It says:
By having employees do one task, like cooking hamburger patties or warming buns, McDonald’s brought lean production to the hamburger, fries, and soft drinks business.
I’m not sure why the writer would equate McDonald’s with Toyota-style “lean production.” I don’t recall any formal association between McDonald’s and Lean, nor do I recall any references to McDonald’s having any sort of Lean initiative.
The idea of breaking work down to small, tiny jobs is really more the methodology of Frederick Taylor or Henry Ford. In Lean environments, we typically emphasize cross training and skill building, allowing people to be able to do MORE types of work, rather than being relegated to a single, repetitive task.
When Starbucks presented at the Lean Transformation Summit in March, they described their Lean initiative for the stores and baristas as being the polar opposite of the classic McDonald’s approach. McDonald’s-ism is all about having “standard operating procedure” binders and manuals dictated by the corporate office. McDonald’s-ism is an attempt to “dumb down” the work, so it can be be taught quickly to anybody coming in off the street.
Starbucks, through their Lean program, is not dictating SOPs and methods from Seattle headquarters. Starbucks is using Lean and “Training Within Industry” methods to teach store managers and personnel how to solve problems and how to improve processes. Starbucks isn’t wound up about every store having the exact same methods, given that there are differences in the layouts of different stores. Yes, they need some consistency in how drinks are made, but they aren’t trying to dictate every little detail of how all the work is done.
Taylorism assumes that workers are stupid, so we have to dumb down the work and dictate how everything is done. Lean assumes that workers are capable and creative, so we teach them how to define and improve their own standardized work. The contrast couldn’t be any more clear when you really know what Lean is all about.
The second case is from this review of the book Full Engagement!: Inspire, Motivate, and Bring Out the Best in Your People by Brian Tracy is, I think, an example of the reviewer injecting their own misperception about Lean into the discussion, as he writes:
Add to that the dehumanization of Lean manufacturing and other robotic time- and cost-saving, “leave your brain at the door” measures, it’s time that someone did something good for the American worker. Brian Tracy has done exactly that with his new book Full Engagement!
I checked out Brian Tracy’s book via Google Books and I can’t find any evidence that he wrote about Lean or Toyota, so I assume that the mention of Lean is based on the reviewer’s misunderstanding of Lean…. or the reviewer had a bad experience of an organization practicing Taylorism while calling it Lean.
The employee lament of “they tell us to check our brains at the door” is something I’ve heard from factory production workers and healthcare professionals – a problem that’s always attributed to a NON-LEAN workplace environment. Lean is far from dehumanizing, as it engages everybody in “Kaizen” or continuous improvement. It’s the traditional workplace that’s often and sadly dehumanizing.
Lean is the methodology for creating full engagement in the workplace. In the second revised edition of my book Lean Hospitals, I am able to share some data from a hospital laboratory where employee engagement scores went UP because of Lean management (a pattern we see in many other organizations). Far from “turning the hospital into a factory,” Lean healthcare creates an environment where everybody is working together to improve patient care – a key theme of my upcoming second book, Healthcare Kaizen: Engaging Front-Line Staff in Sustainable Improvements.
It doesn’t help those of us trying to good things through Lean methods and philosophies to see “lean production” or “lean manufacturing” disparaged in such an unfortunate and inaccurate way.