Business Week and Lean Myths


No One Does Lean Like The Japanese – Business Week

This article has some nice case study examples of how Matsushita is using lean principles to turn their business around. But, this article compounds some of the usual lean myths. Look at the headline “No One Does Lean Like the Japanese.”

It's inaccurate to say “nobody” does lean like “the Japanese.” For one, not all Japanese companies are lean. We learned that through the book, The Machine that Changed the World. Secondly, Toyota is very lean in the United States with mainly American workers. Thirdly, many American-owned companies are duplicating Toyota's famed lean success (but not GM or Ford, unfortunately).

“Japan, of course, has long been a global leader in lean production. Japanese companies invented just-in-time manufacturing, where parts arrive at the loading dock right when they're needed.”

It's also not 100% accurate to say the Japanese invented Just-In-Time. Toyota leaders from the 1950's acknowledged what they learned from Henry Ford and they learned JIT by visiting American supermarkets and seeing how shelves were replenished.

My quibbling aside, there are some good examples of lean in the article. I like the one example that proves lean isn't just about building things more effectively.

With 75 markets to cater to, the seven factories in Saga's group make 35 million phones, faxes, printers, and other products annually. It was a logistical nightmare: There were 1,500 shape and color variations for phones alone, and engineers needed to rearrange as many as 77 circuit-board parts for each new model. Retooling the robots for every type of board was simply too time-consuming, so Matsushita engineers designed a circuit-board that would need only slight changes for each model.

Look at how product design impacted manufacturing efficiency. That's true efficiency, at the company level, integrating design and production together (and also aiming to tie in procurement, sales, etc.).

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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. Matsushita is given credit by some as being better at “lean” than Toyota. They even get mentioned in Shingo’s worked as he trained 1,000s of people there. This is just “the next step” for them.


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