Jim Womack in India


‘Most Indian managers don't know what is possible'

Jim Womack was recently in India, as this article in the Business Standard publication. It's kind of unfortunate for them that they abbreviate the publication's name as “BS”…. such as their “BS Poll.” But let's look past that….

Outside of Toyota City, the best manufacturing operation is in Chennai, says James P Womack, the founder-chairman of Lean Enterprise Institute, a non-profit educational and research organisation. That is evidence that Indian companies can implement and sustain “lean” systems. Unfortunately, he says, not many Indian managers know this.

One of the most provocative and interesting Q&A segment was about the excuse of India's infrastructure:

One of the major issues with the Toyota Way is that it depends on an optimum infrastructure delivery environment, like in Japan, Europe or the US and, therefore, has less relevance for India. Do you agree? I always find this argument very curious. I can't help but suspect that some Indian managers are hoping it is true so they can say, “Thank goodness! Now we don't have to change the way we manage!” All I would ask any Indian manager to do is to think through the Toyota/lean principle of supplying small amounts frequently to customers at every point along a value stream.

I know I have a lot of readers from India — what are your thoughts on this? Is infrastructure and transportation a “barrier” or an “excuse”?

Womack also talks about the Chennai plant that he was so impressed with:

What impressed you at the TVS plant?
The team at WABCO-TVS (manufacturer of vehicle control systems) has done a brilliant job of scanning for lean knowledge, bringing a few experts for a short period and learning everything they knew, and then incorporating it into their business system, from policy deployment to factory operations to supplier development — an extremely impressive achievement.

For more, check out the link at the top of the post. And, Indian readers, please do let us know what you think of the article and about the state of Lean in India.

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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. Hi Mark

    It isn’t all one-way traffic. The fabled ‘dabawallahs’ deliver millions of lunches in colour-coded tins to office-workers in Mumbai with something like a nine-sigma delivery rate. And all without the support of an IT system. The dabbawallahs are a famous Harvard Business School Case Study.

    Nine-sigma quality without any IT support. Now that’s something to think about.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  2. What I would say is that lean thinking is fostered by the culture around and I am not so sure if our culture enables a lean thinking. Openness to new ideas, respect for others and trust in others etc. are not that strongly practised in our environment. I would even say that the outsourcing success is rooted more at conformance and cheap labor than any kind of innovation. It sure has helped us in many ways, but lean thinking seems far from many of these organizations. In the software environment, almost all companies would have a SEI-CMM or an ISO9000 certification, thought I would bet that it is mostly on paper, not in practice. The usual thinking is that a set plan and pushing rather than inspiring people to the set plan is the way to get business results and most of the time it is only the end results that matter, not how it was achieved. May be I should write a blog post on this to explain this in bit more detail.

  3. Infrastructure is just an execuse. not only in India , but any where in the world. when people do not want to change their way of think and doing their work, they will come up with 100 excuses why lean or any other lean concept cannot be implemented. infrastructure is an external factor while implementing lean, when u looking at internal factors like forming cross functional teams to discuss an issue- the number of excuses that will come up will be large in number. It all boils down to the Top management`s commitment- if the top management is serious about implementing lean- then resistance to change is less and so is the number of excuses.

  4. I work with a small scale industrial unit(a few million dollars revenue) in Bombay. I can only speak for companies of sub 8-10 million in revenues.

    1. Lack of awareness
    2. Structure
    3. Fear

    Most people are unaware of modern managerial/operational techniques in the small scale manufacturing sector. Such ideas are yet to percolate into the mid and bottom rung companies in the country.

    @Structure There is no process oriented structure, the idea of process is yet to be cultivated and imbibed.

    @Fear People did not expect to reach where they have reached today, reaching far too ahead and concentrate on high growth is still looked down upon by a large section of a socialist society. While people have awakened to the idea of growth today, its still at the middle class level and not at the lower middles class who work in our factories.

  5. It is only when Americans tell Indians that Lean works will our CEOs invite Lean Consultants. I wish to thank Dr. Womack whose visit to India has resulted in increased business for consultants like us. Do visit us again more frequently. You will find several pockets of excellence created wholly by Indian consultants.

  6. I think about the last time I heard "The best lean practices outside Toyota…" comment. Then it was Delphi…

    Time for Hansei…


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