Coming Soon: Special Q&A with Womack and Jones


UPDATE: It's finally here, part 1 of the Q&A

Hello blog readers. I'm very excited. I have been promised a Q&A session with the authors of “Lean Solutions”, James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones that I will post here. I'm not sure when it will happen, but I am currently drafting questions to send to them via email.

The Lean Enterprise Institute is graciously providing a few autographed copies of the book for me to give away. Lacking a better idea, I'll propose this: If you have a question that you would like me to submit along with my questions, post it here or email me (deadline 5 pm CDT Friday). I'll choose the best questions submitted and will give the books away to the submitters of those questions. I'd suggest questions based on Lean Solutions (first chapters on the LEI website) or follow up questions regarding Lean Thinking.

Keep tuned.

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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. Let me start off by saying that I’m a lot of levels lower down than most of the Lean learners out there and my questions and concerns reflect my bearings. I hope my questions aren’t seen as too simplistic to be seen as worthy of expression.

    It seems that most Lean-ers out there are supported with greater resources and corporate infrastructure. All of the books out there assume one’s organization is of such size that their resources are -comparatively- limitless. I’m a one person outfit trying to develop craft level manufacturers -who are also tiny companies- into lean producers (see on -for all intents and purposes- a not-for-profit basis. While I think no one has a problem chiming in that small companies are worthy of attention, there’s few resources directed toward that end and I’m left bereft of support; lip-service providing little sustenance.

    For example (I work in the apparel industry), there’s only one company that is licensed to teach TSS (Toyota Sewing System) and they are most definitely not small business friendly. Furthermore, I find it difficult to have any confidence in the licensee when their website has largely remained unchanged since 1999. The most dramatic selling point of TSS would be a video clip of a sewing cell in action yet there is nothing of the sort on their site. Unfortunately, this company does not share its parent’s -Toyota- transparency of process. I fail to understand why the licensing of TSS is limited in such a fashion. It would seem that such limitations serve to subvert the larger purpose of wider informational dispersal. Similarly, the cost of such services is untenable for small producers. There’s a huge disconnect between the appropriateness of instruction and support to smaller companies -companies that are more likely to apply lean I might add, than large ones. There’s only so much one can do with operational processes and I’ve written extensively on what I believe are appropriate practices -of which ZARA is a model operation (although there’s still quite a bit of slop in their system).

    Then, within Lean itself, there’s little support for manufacturing segments that are closer to the ground. By this I mean industries with greater reliance on natural earth life-cycles. Not everyone is manufacturing finished goods of which the inputs of the supply chain are also largely manufactured goods. An easy analogy is agriculture -upon which the apparel industry is similarly constrained. Lean will always be limited in industries that are based on earth life-cycles, yet little (or rather, none that I’ve been able to find) of these constraints are discussed in Lean circles. Our entire supply chain -fabrics and the like- are dependent upon agricultural inputs. While it’s not to say that manufactured inputs of man-made fibers don’t exist, the selling season of the latter inputs are limited by supplier marketing structures which follow the schedules and calender of earth based fibers. Still worse, the supply chain for smaller apparel producers is abysmal. There are NO -I repeat- NO domestic fabric producers with the lean infrastructure to deliver smaller supplies of goods! Tragically and paradoxically, smaller apparel producers have only been able to acquire smaller quantities of inputs through outsourcing -mostly Asia. While the provisions of CAFTA may have a negative effect on US jobs (Mills: spinners and weavers), lowering trade barriers through devices like CAFTA have actually increased a small apparel manufacturer’s access to inputs like fabrics! (see my post which raises a whole new paradox of, how can sourcing farther afield be leaner? The facts suggest that it is.

    I guess I’m really just venting…it would seem that it is most efficient for enterprises to gestate lean rather than to make the conversion later but there is little within the field to facilitate this. I would love to know how Lean leadership would analyse the difficulties of both the smallest producers and the contraints of industries tied to earth cycles. I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about lean as applied to agriculture and the like and would love to find new directions for learning.


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