Census of Manufacturers


Along with the profiles of this year's Industry Week's Best Plants Award, the latest issue includes the latest census data on continuous improvement. Of course, a survey question being checked on a website is far from direct observation (or gemba), but the results are interesting anyway. Here's the snapshot of what companies say they are using:

  • Lean Manufacturing – 40.5%
  • Total Quality Management – 9.9%
  • Lean and Six Sigma – 12.4%
  • Other – 5.2%
  • Agile Manufacturing – 3.8%
  • Theory of Constraints – 3.0%
  • Six Sigma 3.1%
  • Toyota Production System – 3.1%
  • None – 19.1%

So what percent are doing lean? Adding to the base 40%, we have to add “lean and six sigma” because they are doing both, and must add Toyota Production System, because they at least aspire to be the same thing. That brings us to 56%. Despite being attached to it at its beginning, most efforts at Agile, despite saying that agile it “beyond lean”, are really an attempt to become lean. Furthermore, I've run into many companies that have renamed lean something else and don't even know that what they are doing is at least based on lean. So let's assume (which is as dangerous as reading these results in the first place) that half of the agile and “other” companies are also doing lean. That adds another 4.5% bringing the total to 60.5%.

What conclusions should we draw? Perhaps none, but it is clear that lean is a big part of manufacturing success. What were last years numbers? Using the same flawed addition I used before, the total is 50.9%. That's a big climb. I would argue it's too big a climb. Why? Because there is a reason that the MAJORITY of companies pursue lean. It's not to save costs. Or become more competitive. Or improve quality. The REAL reason most companies pursue lean is because EVERYONE ELSE IS. This is a horrible reason, and I believe that it will lead to poor execution and ultimately, a bad taste in people's mouth for lean as they experienced it.

Another surprise is that over 19% of manufacturing companies have chosen to do nothing. It's not even that they SAY they are doing something but really aren't. These companies actually check the box that says they are doing nothing. This is amazing. I just can't believe it. Well, considering my travels and what I see in industry, I can believe it but am saddened by it.

Further into the article, there are other things that concern me. The #1 thing that concerns me is that 1.4% of companies believe they have “fully achieved” world-class status. Wow! They must be awesome…or, they are kidding themselves. I believe its the latter. Most companies that are really world-class are that good because they BELIEVE they are so far from being world-class. And they would NEVER say they have fully achieved it.

So, that's some rather rough statistical analysis and conclusion-drawing. What conclusions do you draw? And, what do we do about them?

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Jamie Flinchbaugh
Jamie Flinchbaugh is an accomplished Entrepreneur, Senior Executive, and Board Member with more than 20 years of success spanning finance, manufacturing, automotive, and management consulting. Leveraging extensive operational experience, Jamie is an invaluable asset for a company seeking expert guidance with process improvements, lean strategies, and leadership coaching in order to transform operations, reduce costs, and drive profitability. His areas of expertise include continuous improvement, entrepreneurship, coaching and training, process transformation, business strategy, and organizational design.


  1. I agree with you Jamie, you beat me to the punch as I just read the latest IW last night on a flight.

    Some of this argument over terminology, such as “are you doing lean or agile” drives me crazy. It’s muda, arguing over the distinction or inventing new words. Check out the NWLEAN email list when someone posts the question, “what’s the difference between agile and lean?” and listen to the empassioned responses. Muda.

    It’s not surprising that half say they are doing lean. Easier said than actually worked on. “Doing lean” might mean a 5S program and a crappy one at that.

    You’re right Jamie that nobody is ever fully lean or “done” with lean. I’m surprised that ONLY 1.4% of companies think they are World Class. I bet 90% of companies think they are above average, as the old joke goes.

  2. Guess all of this debate over ‘agile, lean, lean-six sigma, TOC, etc’ really shows either the ignorance or desire for arrogance of these firms. Aren’t they all really just an imitation or part of TPS?

  3. That’s a gross oversimplication of the problem. First, most companies should learn from Toyota, but not try to copy. While we might all be heading in the same direction, we all have a different starting point. You have to accomodate the journey. Even if you made cars, such as Ford or GM, you shouldn’t try to implement the Toyota Production System because while you can copy and get some of the results, you must create it and think through it yourself or you will never understand it.


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