As the creator of the admittedly awkward L.A.M.E. acronym (meaning Lean As Mistakenly Explained or Lean As Misguidedly Executed), one burden is that I often get emails tipping me off to L.A.M.E. sightings.
In a nutshell, it’s L.A.M.E. when a company does something awful that’s not at all in line with accepted Lean or “Toyota Production System” principles. Or, it’s L.A.M.E. of the other form when a writer misunderstands Lean (or intentionally misrepresents it) and writes something off base.
Today, I have three L.A.M.E. sightings from around the world… (somebody please make me a better graphic!!) If you’re not a regular reader, see my “What is Lean?” page as a starting point or the 14 principles of The Toyota Way.
Lean (or L.A.M.E.) in Knowledge Work
The blogger, Luke Rumley, unfortunately uses Seth Godin’s unfair and insulting “factory thinking” idea (which I refuted earlier here) to assume that factories are awful, stifling, inhumane places.
It’s unclear what Rumley bases this statement on:
The lean manufacturing model, when applied to knowledge work, is a race to the bottom where humans are reduced to robots and creative output to widgets. The work is process-mapped to death, and management demands “faster, better, cheaper.” The concern is not for the experience of the end customer or the growth of the company, but rather “what can the customer live without so that we can save more money?”
If a company is doing things in the name of Lean that 1) reduce people to robots and 2) don’t focus on the customer, then that’s clearly L.A.M.E. I don’t know if Rumley is working on a company with L.A.M.E. practices or if he’s just pontificating. Considering the way Toyota and other Lean factories (and hospitals) engage everybody in problem solving and continuous improvement, not even Lean factories reduce workers to robots, it’s silly to think Lean in an office setting would be that way. You get L.A.M.E. when managers who don’t respect workers (who already think of them as “office drones”) get a hold of Lean tools…
As Toyota’s Taiichi Ohno, a creator of the Toyota Production System, said:
“Why not make the work easier and more interesting so that people do not have to sweat? The Toyota style is not to create results by working hard. It is a system that says there is no limit to people’s creativity. People don’t go to Toyota to ‘work’ they go there to ‘think’.”
Truly Lean organizations think about how they can best meet customer needs and add MORE value to customers or patients. The key to Lean is reducing waste (like quality defects or unnecessary costs) while delivering the most value (the things customers want and are willing to pay for). It’s just good business sense – and it’s “Lean.”
Lean (or L.A.M.E.) in Indian Car Factories
This article from Forbes India caught my eye: “A Lean Production System is Bad for Workers.”
Considering great Lean organizations not only engage workers and their brains (ala the “Thinking Production System” at Toyota) but also work hard to improve worker safety and job security, it’s hard to see how Lean is bad for workers.
A professor from Delhi, Annavajhula J C Bose, visiting some Indian factories that probably told him they were “doing Lean” when they are actually L.A.M.E.
From the article, L.A.M.E. includes:
…the human mind goes through severe stress when it has to do the same task over and over again for more than eight hours a day and for over 350 days a year. Repetitive function, along with a punishing work environment and ridiculously low wages, saps a worker mentally and physically.
Lean environments have MORE job rotation and cross training than traditionally managed factories. This is better for quality, job variety, and ergonomics. You don’t do the same thing over and over for eight hours in a Lean factory. That’s what happens in sweatshop Foxconn factories that make Apple products (and similar things happen for other electronics “makers” like Samsung).
About Foxconn/Apple (from a reporter who got a job as a worker):
By my own calculations, I have to mark five iPhone plates every minute, at least. For every 10 hours, I have to accomplish 3,000 iPhone 5 back plates.
That’s not Lean, it’s inhumane (as are other practices in the plant).
From this report about the Indian plants:
If a worker’s task is to add a brake and pedal, then that’s what you do all day, with 8-10 bolts in every car, car after car, 40 seconds per car. The result is a bit like a dance move, the same move, non-stop for eight hours.
Again, L.A.M.E. As are the claims of not being able to take bathroom breaks, drink water, or go home if your father dies.
Anyway, back to the India article:
A case in point is Maruti Suzuki. At the carmaker’s Gurgaon plant, the number of contract workers increased from about 40 percent of the workforce in 1983 to 70 percent (4,000) in 2007.
Yes, Toyota uses some contract workers – so they can flex production without having to lay off permanent workers, but it’s nowhere near 70% temps. 70% temporary workers is L.A.M.E., not Lean.
- Training is poor (L.A.M.E.)
- Workers aren’t fully paid for overtime (that would be illegal here)
Workers should rise up and strike or protest when conditions are that bad.
Claptrap about “Lean” in Education
Hat tip to Karthik Chandramouli for pointing out this piece: “Lean Production: What’s Really Hurting Public Education” (Jacobin).
I’m not aware of Lean really being applied that much in the classroom. My hometown district has some Lean improvement efforts related to support areas, but is Lean really reaching the classroom the way it’s helping in healthcare? Is Lean (or L.A.M.E. being used in Chicago, where the teachers went on strike this week?) I know Lean isn’t being used in Detroit, mentioned in the article (my mom is a recently retired public school teacher there).
The Jacobin article, by Will Johnson, cites a leftist professor’s research and makes the same arguments that socialist and communist groups make – that Lean is just a tool for the company owners to better exploit labor. I agree that workers of the world should unite – against L.A.M.E.
The business model of education reform is an extension of a process called lean production that transformed the U.S. private sector in the 1980s and 90s. In education, just as in heavy manufacturing, the greatest damage done by lean production is not done at the bargaining table, but in the destruction of teachers’ working (and students’ learning) conditions.
I don’t think the modern education reform movement is an extension of Lean. If anything, it’s the opposite.
Case in point – much of Lean is based on the philosophy of W. Edwards Deming who was against annual performance reviews and ranking of workers. Modern education reform LOVES this practice, using standardized test scores (something that I think is wrongheaded, as do other Deming students).
The writer says:
My first two years teaching in New York City, I worked at an exemplary “lean” high school.
Is there any evidence that NYC schools are really trying to use “Lean” (or L.A.M.E.?) By “lean,” he might mean understaffed, but that’s L.A.M.E.
The writer complains about the “team concept”:
The team concept is a critical component of lean production. In lean workplaces, labor journalist Jane Slaughter writes, worker teams are designed to enlist workers “in speeding up their own jobs… It is no longer enough for workers to come to work and do their jobs; they need to become ‘partners in production.'”
Lean isn’t about “speeding up the work.” It’s about improving productivity and quality by making work easier… if that means you can build more cars with the same effort, then great (if customers are willing to buy them). A Lean hospital can see more patients in the emergency department each hour, but without cutting corners and spending MORE time with patients (I know this seems contradictory, but when doctors and nurses aren’t running around looking for meds and test results, you can actually provide more patient care). I don’t know if a Lean education environment could provide MORE education, but I guess that would be the idea. Teachers would be LISTENED to in a Lean environment.
In a lean factory, however, supervisors speed up the production process until a worker drops a widget, loses a finger, or has a nervous breakdown. Such breakdowns are viewed as a positive because they allow management to identify weak links in the chain of production.
Speeding up until a worker loses a finger? Give me a break. That’s not Lean, that’s L.A.M.E.
Before tracking the flow of value, however, managers must, as lean production experts James Womack and Daniel Jones write, “specify value.” In lean schools, value is “specified” as test scores.
What the writer misses is the Womack and Jones idea is that “value” is specified by the customer. I’m not sure parents really define test scores as the end goal – they want educated, well-rounded kids who can do well in society.
As lean management guru Bob Emiliani puts it, “The final element of… evolving human resource practice was… an annual forced ranking of all associates.”
This is a distortion. Bob Emiliani is the greatest advocate for workers and the “respect for people” principle. Emiliani told me yesterday that he was writing about the practices of Wiremold… not describing the Lean ideal.
Public humiliation is certainly useful for lean managers who seek to place constant pressure on their employees so that, as Womack and Jones write, they can “do more and more with less and less.”
Public humiliation is what the old school GM managers did when I worked there in 1995. The new “Lean” plant manager (one of the original NUMMI guys) didn’t believe that publicly castigating everybody would lead to better quality and productivity. Public humiliation and verbal abuse isn’t Lean and it’s not what Womack and Jones advocate.
Anyway, this blog post is long enough… there’s a lot of claptrap in that article. Maybe it’s just a shot across the bow to prevent education leaders from embracing “Lean” in the way it’s supposed to be – supportive and respectful of everybody involved – the Toyota “respect for people” principle. As I tweeted, “This article is bullshit layered on top of horsepucky.” Not the most logical argument, but I think it’s true. The Jacobin piece doesn’t allow comments… so this post is it. They do accept letters to the editor, if somebody wants to take that on.
For my regular readers, I’m preaching to the choir, I’m sure. For those who are new to Lean… if you’ve made it this far, please go visit a Toyota facility and talk to the people there about Lean. Read a book written about Toyota – or these great books that illustrate that Lean is good for workers, customers (patients), and organizations:
- On the Mend: Revolutionizing Healthcare to Save Lives and Transform the Industry
- 2 Second Lean: How to Grow People and Build a Fun Lean Culture
- Real Lean: Understanding the Lean Management System (Volume 1)
- Toyota Culture: The Heart and Soul of the Toyota Way
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please scroll down to post a comment (or click through to the blog if you’re reading via email or RSS).