Many of the “anti-lean” stories I hear sound like descriptions of situations or methods that I would hardly describe as “Lean.” There are many problems with the word “Lean” (see one such example), but we're pretty well stuck with it.
First, “Lean” is often used in a negative sense that has nothing to do with the Toyota Production System, as in “we have very lean staffing levels,” meaning “we don't have enough people to get the job done.” That's not the Lean concept at all. A Lean organization makes sure we have the right number of people to do the work the right way.
Secondly, there is no official ‘keeper of the lean” to officially bestow the “lean” title on any practice or behavior. We're free to describe pretty much anything we like as “lean,” the only downside might be getting mocked in the lean community, but that's not much downside, is it?
Lean Shouldn't Be Demeaning
For example, this “5S” program in the UK that was described as “demeaning.” From the news reports, this didn't sound very “Lean,” (in a Toyota sense) in terms of doing anything much to reduce waste or improve things for employees. Does this give “Lean” a bad name or does it give the consultants and the managers a bad name? People tend to blame “Lean.”
Lean Shouldn't Be Layoffs
When companies use Lean methods to drive layoffs, something most Lean consultants (myself included) say you shouldn't do since it understandably drains any employee enthusiasm for lean, does this give “Lean” a bad name or that company a bad name? People blame “Lean” and say that “Lean” led to their layoffs.
Lean Shouldn't Be Bureaucratic
When this guy got the idea, somewhere, that “Gemba walks” led to more bureaucracy and paperwork. If that the was the case somewhere (and it shouldn't be if a Gemba process is implemented properly, would “Lean” get the blame for wasting managers' time?
Lean Shouldn't Be Bad
Maybe we need a phrase that describes these “bad” or misguided attempts at Lean, things that give Lean a bad name.
How about something like…
LAME: “Lean” As Misguidedly Executed
Lean As Mistakenly Explained?
Can you think of a better phrase? Is this helpful? Why is it necessary? Or not?
We need something to describe what bad managers do when they purposely distort or accidentally misunderstand Lean. Maybe this will catch on, or maybe it's lame.
This way, when we see a “lean horror story,” we can refer to it as the “LAME method” instead of a “Lean method.” Does it help to label such things as “fake Lean”?
Your Stories and Experiences
Have you encountered instances of L.A.M.E. in your organization? Sharing these stories can be a learning opportunity for all of us. By identifying where Lean has been misapplied, we can work towards a clearer understanding and more effective implementation of its principles.
Conclusion and Call-to-Action
Understanding the difference between true Lean and L.A.M.E. is vital for any organization striving for efficiency and effectiveness. I invite you to share your experiences in the comments, or on LinkedIn, to foster a community of learning and improvement. Don't forget to subscribe for regular insights on Lean practices.
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