Merck, I told you so…


Kaizen and Lean Manufacturing thoughts | Gemba Panta Rei

Here is a sad update on Merck's “lean” efforts (click the link above). I hate to call what they are doing “lean” but that's what Merck is calling it.

I posted this back in November, my prediction “I'll bet that Merck's lean effort fails”.

It goes against common sense and basic human nature to think that people are going to be motivated to help drive true lean, via continuous improvement, if they are afraid for their own jobs. Merck announced, in November, that they were going to cut 7,000 jobs in the midst of a lean initiative. This is a path for failure. People will clam up and work against management, if it seems like it's in their own best interests.

In this new article (at the Panta Rei blog), Merck says:

Determining job cuts are part of the lean manufacturing system aimed at streamlining.

It makes me very angry to read this. One of the definitions of lean I like best is Norm Bodek's, which I paraphrase as :

1) eliminate waste
2) have respect for people

Furthering goal #1 requires meeting goal #2. It's through having respect for people, listening to them, fixing their problems (waste), and eliminating fear that you will drive employee involvement and true continuous improvement.

Cutting heads is, at best, a short term “fix” that might fool Wall St. for a little while.

Another thing I just realized, if you google “merck lean”, the first thing that comes up is my inflammatory blog criticism of them. I hope I don't get sued for that!

Update: another article on the plant layoffs. Although 20% of workers will lose their jobs, they are in limbo for a month until they find out. Ah, how morale will soar in the mean time! This is the first Merck plant to do “lean.” I'm sure the other plants can't wait.

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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. Just endorsing the above article. And this is coming from a Merck Lean Six Sigma analyst. Merck LSS still don’t get it. Mediocrity and ego rules…


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