Lean Manufacturing in China: Opportunities and Challenges – LeanBlog Podcast Featuring Jim Womack


Update 12/17: Click here for part 2 of the Womack podcast.


LeanBlog Podcast #12 brings us a special guest, James P. Womack of the Lean Enterprise Institute, the author of many books including the classic (published 10 years ago) Lean Thinking and the more recent Lean Solutions.

We ended up talking for about 40 minutes, so I'm going to split the discussion into two podcasts. In this first part, we focus more on China's adoption (or lack of adoption) of lean practices. In the second episode, Jim talks more about general trends for China and for those considering doing business in China.

LeanBlog Podcast #12 Show Notes and Approximate Timeline

  • 1:45: Womack's trips to China started in the 1980's… on his honeymoon
  • 2:15: http://www.leanchina.org/ is the Lean Enterprise Institute in China
  • 2:45: The Chinese have gone from being “not even mass producers” (staggering, mindboggling inefficiency) where the goal was job creation and control (20 years ago) to where now they are trying to be globally competitive in a serious way (but with a LONG history of doing things the wrong way)
  • 4:10 :     “Management is hard” – what is modern management (or even lean management) for the Chinese?
  • 5:00: Chinese learned management from multinationals, entrepreneurs (including “Andre the Pencil King”)
  • 6:00: No real Toyota presence in China (other than a few joint ventures)
  • 6:30: Any evidence of lean practices or lean thinking in China's shopfloors?
  • 8:00  :     333Stories of waste from China
  • 9:45: It's hard, from a cultural standpoint, for the Chinese to hear they should be like the Japanese (due to long standing animosity)
  • 11:45: Lean can be a universal way of doing things, just as mass production can be a universal way
  • 12:50  :    : Does China have more hope for lean if they don't have such a long history with mass production? Womack says “why put in place the wrong thing (mass production)?” We can be General Motors or we can be Toyota… let's be Toyota.
  • 14:30  : “They sense this low-wage thing is time limited…. They can't go on building cheap goods for Americans forever.”
  • 17:30  : Womack's recent lean e-letter
  • 19:10  : Wages are rising on the coast, but for commodity stuff, manufacturers will just move inland. We won't see the cost of labor really going up. The price of management is really going up though – seeing what ex-pats are being paid is putting upward pressure on management wages (folks with education)
  • 22:30  : “I saw nobody at all working to improve the process… it looked like nothing had changed in 40 years.”Big big leap from there to everyone thinking its part of their job to improve.

A complete list of Jim's books can be found here.

Automated Transcript (Likely to Contain Defects)

More Information

If you have feedback on the podcast, or any questions for me or my guests, you can email me at leanpodcast@gmail.com or you can call and leave a voicemail by calling the “Lean Line” at (817) 993-0630 or contact me via Skype id “mgraban”. Please give your location and your first name. Any comments (email or voicemail) might be used in follow ups to the podcast.

Visit the main LeanBlog Podcast page with all previous episodes.

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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.



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