Diversity in Lean Thought is a Good Thing


    Just a quick blog post for today… I recently did an online presentation for a student Lean club at Utah State University. It wasn't as nice as actually being there, but with the webcam connection, I could at least the faces of students who asked questions. It's nice to see a strong interest in Lean (this is a voluntary “free time” club) and there was a particular interest in healthcare careers.

    In preparing for my presentation, I made a bad assumption. I assumed the group was all engineers. I'm an Industrial Engineer and always thought of Lean as an “I.E.” field.

    It turns out that the group was mostly NOT engineers, with students studying accounting, marketing, psychology, business and other subjects.

    I think this is great for the future of Lean. Since Lean is a socio-technical field, we need more of a focus on people and not just the technical. One of the best Lean thinkers I worked with in manufacturing had an H.R. background. He was so effective at leading projects in the shopfloor because he had a keen understanding of how to work with people effectively.

    I'm not bashing engineers or saying that engineers can't do this… I just think the diversity of academic backgrounds is great. As one of the student leaders said”

    “Everybody reads different things, and has different backgrounds, so we all help each other out.”

    This almost begs for a survey… but in comments, maybe you can share your background and how you got into Lean.

    I hope everyone had a productive week. I had a rewarding week… remember that Lean and change management can be hard… we all have our ups and downs in this work, but hang in there. As Jim Womack loves to say (and I'm paraphrasing):

    “If what you're doing seems easy, you're not really doing Lean.”

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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. Speaking for myself, I’m an ex-finance guy. I spent the first 15 years of my career as an accountant and an accounting manager. When I came to Lean, the group at my company was almost exclusively IE’s. They were looking for some new ideas since they were having trouble with sustainability. Since I had dabbled in change management over the years, they asked me to create a training class in that area, which helped people understand the effect of change on people and organizations. So in this instance, by background outside the factory was an asset to the overall Lean efforts.

    2. I’ve had a variety of professional incarnations — product marketing, sales, middle school English teacher — but one thing that always struck me was how few people were able to get done what they needed to get done during the day. They’d be at the office till 7, 8, or 9pm in an effort to get their jobs done.

      Looking into it more deeply, I could see that these folks were wasting an enormous amount of time on non-value added activities. Most of their days were spent doing stuff that really wasn’t important or valuable at all. And that made me realize that there’s a need for lean in personal work habits.

    3. I was an Economics major in the business school in college. I was a production supervisor and then a construction manager before becoming a full-time Lean advocate.

      I’ve interacted with a lot of lean consultants in the past couple years, and most of them had I.E. backgrounds. While they’re always my favorite people to brainstorm Lean ideas with because of their strong analytical skills, I sometimes find that they speak wayyyyyy over most people’s heads. That’s a silly generalization of course, but it’s what I’ve observed in my limited experience.

    4. Educational background in electrical engineer, minor in computer engineering, some graduate work in software engineering but dropped out before completing my thesis. Been involved in Agile software development since 1999. Mostly worked on software development projects with larger enterprises in the financial services domain.

    5. I studied Psychology, but worked as an operational manager in a pensions & investments company.

      When I read John Seddon's 'Freedom from Command and Control' (which has strong Lean influences), I was struck by how powerful the concept could be, especially in a service organisation.

      I've spent the rest of my career applying the thinking and trying to spread the word about it.

    6. I’m a plant pathologist (what’s that?) by training and education, moving into an operations management role at our ornamental horticulture starter plant company nine years ago.

      Seeking direction on how manage and lead change in my management role, I discovered the power of the Toyota Way through reading, personal contacts and plant tours – and latched on to it like a life preserver in a stormy sea. Over the years since, we’ve built the ship around us, found the compass, and learned to sail.

      My role has expanded to management at a business unit level, and I’m still taking my lead from the teachers (and peers, and employees!) who got me this far.

      I DEFINITELY encourage non-engineers to engage, and engineers to let go of lean implementation. Many failed lean deployments are based on assignment of transformation to specialists, vs. organizations embracing a new way of working and thinking.

    7. I finished college with a Business Management degree, went into credit/collections, then sales/sales management, before finally moving into manufacturing management and becomming exposed to Lean.

      I had Cellular/TQM courses in college, but never practiced until I moved into manufacturing.


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