Lazy Headline Writing, Yet Again


Leaner and meaner – the way forward?

Ah, the old easy “leaner and meaner” cliche'. Such an easy fallback for editors who aren't feeling very creative. We know here that real Lean isn't mean, at all. Lean respects the employees, suppliers, customers — all stakeholders. But “lean and mean” rhymes…. and I hate it every time I hear the phrase.

At least the article gets better immediately after the headline, although the make LEAN into an acronym (no, it doesn't stand for Less Employees Are Needed).

LEAN isn't a target to be a achieved in itself, more a frame of mind that gets you where you want to be, argues JEZ DAVISON. And it's paying off for companies on Teesside

“The beauty about lean manufacturing is its simplicity,” says Simon Bliss, project director of Billingham timber frame maker Datum.

“It breaks down processes, design and manufacture into bite-size chunks and adds tangible value to your bottom line.”

The company has gotten results, increasing output and production by 30%. I don't care how many Lean tools they implemented. You want to count results, not just count kaizen events (if you use that method). Of course, production quantity isn't the only thing — safety, quality, on-time delivery, and cost will also be impacted by a successful Lean approach.

The article emphasizes the excellent point made by John Seddon in a previous post:

“People think that it's about saving money, but it's about adding value to the business,” he says.

“Also, they assume that the quickest route to efficiency is reducing headcount. Lean is focused on growing the business.”

“Teesside companies have demonstrated that it can work. Through the consortium, a window manufacturer increased capacity by 40% in two months.”

The “fair and balanced” side of the article brings up the old “what if an earthquake happens?” argument against “just in time,” something we've discussed a lot here.

I really dislike the snotty tone taken at this point:

Critics questioned how a supposedly groundbreaking initiative – first tested in 1948 by Toyota and adopted vigorously by Nissan and its supply chain from the 1980s – could overlook the basic principle of inventory control.

Is there an inventory control system alive that would have protected the supply chain against a catastrophic fire, or an earthquake, or a tornado hitting a supplier's factory? I doubt it, unless SAP and the others have a new earthquake forecasting module, ha ha.

One other company brings the article back to a positive finish, thankfully:

Kevin Maw, managing director of R W Injection Moulding in Barnard Castle, believes it allows bosses to step back from “everyday noise” and take an objective view of the business.

He says: “It's surprising how many managers forget the basics. The trouble with common sense is that it isn't all that common!”

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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. In my few encounters with reporters over the years on Lean subjects, most of them have only wanted enough information to finish the article – they are not interested in the background material, even though it’s offered. They have fallen back on material they’ve previously seen or heard, which may or may not be accurate. The result can be an uneven portrayal, as Mark has noted here. Not sure what the answer is, but it’s a caution for those of you out there who may be placed in a similar situation.


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