L.A.M.E.: Thinking Lean is About Speed, not Quality


    A blog reader, Tom, sent me a PDF of a column from the ASQ “Quality Progress” magazine, the April 2007 issue. The article is “Using Lean to Meet Quality Objectives,” by Dale K. Gordon. The ASQ website has a link to the article here or you can download the PDF using this direct link.

    I think the ideas in the article represent “L.A.M.E.” (Lean as Misguidedly Executed) in the sense that the examples of “Lean” given don't seem very Lean to me at all. I always cringe when people talk about Lean being only about speed and efficiency or only being about cutting costs. Dale makes the case that Lean is about eliminating waste (it is) and that many companies choose “either defect reduction or lean manufacturing.”

    Dale says:

    “Quality objectives and lean methodologies must work in tandem, not as discrete activities.”

    It's hard for me to imagine how a company would be truly working on Lean without focusing on quality and defects. It's possible if the company is more L.A.M.E. than Lean and they are looking only for quick payoffs such as headcount reduction.

    It's hard to copy and paste from the PDF to here, so I'll reference the start of sentences…

    “Lean improvements, or blitz kaizens performed in a vacuum…”

    Of course it's bad to use Lean to only speed up the production of highly defective products. That's more L.A.M.E. than Lean. Creating a cellular production structure that relies on final inspection, instead of error proofing, doesn't sound very Lean either, but that's another kaizen event that Dale suffered through.

    Anyway, this column is discouraging, if the American Society for Quality is sponsoring columns that say Lean and quality are different concepts, then I have to wonder about how much Quality is built into the ASQ thinking and publications. Is this an isolated case, an individual's author experiences with L.A.M.E., or is it indicative of the thinking at ASQ in general? What do you think?

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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. Mark, I have to agree with you completelu – Lean even identifies reqork as one of the 8 causes of waste. If reducing rework isn’t improving quality, what do you consider quality? I also hope that this is an isolated article and not the thoughts of streamline ASQ members.

    2. In many companies the Quality people wear lab coats when they “visit” the floor. Some quality leaders have built walls around their ISO status positions of reporting to the CEO, rather than building cooperative functions that work to improve the quality of production. That is the real world in many companies.

      Mr. Gordon is talking to those who are trying to escape the lab coat image. While it may seem more “L.A.M.E.” than LEAN, it is a step toward integration in making things better.

    3. Nice insight on the ASQ article. I’d love to hear their, or the author’s response.

      In support of your comment between the dichotomy of Speed versus Quality, many “well-known” consultancies preach the same thing: that lean is for speed, and six sigma is for quality. I think they’re misguided also. First off, it’s a false dichotomy — it’s not an either/or; second, it’s really a superficial understanding, which views leas only as lean-as-set-of-tools, instead of what it truly is, and that is a system.

      On the PDF comment, here’s a lifehack: email the PDF as an attachement, then click “View as HTML”. Then, the contents can be copied and pasted.


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