Another Misguided Lean Article


Uncommon Sense: Is It Lean…or Just Anemic?

Every once in a while I run across a very misguided article/column on lean, this one falls into that category. If you're experienced with lean/TPS, you'll recognize the traps this author has fallen into. I think the only value here is to recognize how some people might misunderstand lean so you can be prepared to work against the misunderstandings.

To summarize my quick responses to this:
1) Can we get over Pearl Harbor already? Articles that mention that or other WWII issues lose all credibility with me.

2) Lean is not just about getting employee suggestions and ideas. There are lean principles that must be taught to help drive improvements in the right direction. Having respect for and listening to your employees in a critical piece, but that's not enough to be “lean”.

3) Lean is not merely a method for reducing direct labor cost. Of course direct labor cost is typically a small percentage of total cost, that's why we also address other costs and the “7 Wastes” (or “8 Wastes”)

4) If you shrink inventories to the point where you really hurt production, you're doing it wrong. You need to fix quality and uptime issues, among other things, using lean tools and management principles. Reducing inventory should provide some positive pressure on the system to drive kaizen, but don't hurt your customers in the process.

5) Lean is certainly not “management abdication,” far from it. It requires leadership and top-level involvement to help drive shop-floor level improvements.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Mark and fellow Bloggers,

    I actually feel a bit betrayed by this guy.

    He is giving Lean a bad name with this type of rhetoric.

    Maybe he has just worked in too many union shops and can’t remember all the positive that comes from Lean.

    He had a few points that are true to some extent, but seemed way too negative and pessimistic about effecting real change without hurting people.


  2. What amazed me was that this guy appears to be from the Bourton Group, a mfg improvement firm. Even stranger is that their “factory level” tool kit includes kanban, flow, kaizen, and others.

    I noticed that the issue date on the article was 2001. Did Bourton Group change their tune over the last 5 years? Was the author a rogue consultant who was soon fired?

    Who knows? I’m glad he wrote it because I’m going to hand it out at the beginning of our next Intro to Lean Six Sigma class and play “Fact or Myth”.


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