Mark Graban's - Lean Healthcare, Lean Hospitals, Healthcare Kaizen, Lean Thinking, Lean Manufacturing, Toyota Production System

No Rx for Lean

I recently have had the opportunity to review a wide range of sites and companies and provide feedback on their lean journey. One of the things that really surprised me was how many of them were still trying to follow a prescription for lean. I heard things such as “the book says to do this but it doesn't work for us, what should we do?”

Simple, drop it or change it.

Too many lean thinkers (I use the term loosely because to me, they aren't thinking) try to take a prescription or recipe and apply it across all sites within a company universally, or across multiple companies. There are many people to “blame” for this (sorry, hate to even use the word) from authors to consultants to new hires into companies. Here's an author that we've come across that in my opinion is part of the problem. His statement includes:

I reduced applying lean to almost a prescription that you can follow with detailed steps that have been proven, time and time again. I have a number of case studies in the book where the prescription is laid out and you just have to implement it.

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That's a prescription for one thing: failure. We hope that you don't follow the same approach. Every organization is different. You have different cultures, resources, skills, business needs, restrictions, and hopefully a vision of your own ideal state that you would like to achieve.

Understand your current state, have a vision of where you would like to go, and chart your own course of action. This is a lot more work, and that's probably why some people avoid it. But it's working on the hard that separates from the good lean efforts from those that fail. Take ownership. Only you can lead your organization, don't try to rely on a prescription.

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Jamie Flinchbaugh is a lean advisor, speaker, and author. In addition to co-founding the Lean Learning Center, he has helped build nearly 20 companies as either a co-founder, board member, advisor, or angel investor. These companies range from high-performance motorcycles to SaaS tools for continuous improvement. He has advised over 300 companies around the world in lean transformation, including Intel, Harley-Davidson, Crayola, BMW, and Amazon.Jamie co-authored the popular book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean, and continues to share his experiences as a Contributing Editor forIndustryWeek and as a blogger at He holds degrees from Lehigh University, University of Michigan, and MIT, and continues to teach and mentor on campus.Jamie is best known for helping to transform how we think about lean from a tools-centric model to one based on principles and behaviors. His passion for lean transformation comes from seeking to unlock the great potential that people possess to build inspiring organizations.

  1. Laura says

    I couldn't agree more. Lean is about teaching how to think not providing solutions. The concept of one size fits all does not apply.

  2. David says

    "No one ever won a battle by frantically trying to remember what someone else once did in some vaguely similar situation"

    –from a 1930s military handbook, edited by George Marshall

  3. Jamie Flinchbaugh says

    I love the Marshall quote – thanks for sharing.


  4. Rick Foreman says

    I agree 100% with the observation. Due to every organization being different (variation) there is not a simplistic 12 step program for lean recovery. We have 4 manufacturing plants and 10 sales offices. Same company but the past management philosophies and geographical locations have established different cultures, which require different approaches.

  5. Anonymous says

    I agree completely. Lean is about problem solving.

    I would say that "follow the recipe" behavior is a result of lack of knowledge, but it is a great way to learn. Most leaders new to lean will not impliment lean without the recipe. It can be a good place to start and give people a sense of comfort from the unknown.

    Without the perscription where does a company new to lean start? Maybe the perscription is the standardized work for creating lean thinkers.

  6. Mark Welch says

    Excellent points in this article, Jamie. I think the hardest thing to consider is that, when trying to adjust a lean effort to fit culture, where is the tipping point between Lean and what Mark G. calls "L.A.M.E.?" Yes, this is probably a gray area with no real tipping point, but each organization has to wrestle with the degree to which they truly want to engrain themselves in Lean. I've become pretty zealous the past few years with the more I learn, and it gets harder each day for me to accept marginal lean.

  7. Dean Bliss says

    Great points by all. I can't count all the times I've been asked about the "formula" or the "recipe" for "becoming Lean". It's a daily learning experience with no end point, which is tough for people to understand and accept, especially those in senior leadership. Our challenge is to teach the philosophy AND the tools, and not let the tools become the story.

  8. Jamie Flinchbaugh says

    Thank you everyone for your comments. I feel like more and more people are catching on to this point over the past few years, but it is still a rampant problem of trying to copy one another's roadmaps. In nothing else, be original.


  9. […] No Rx for Lean dal blog di Jamie Flinchbaugh: Ogni trasformazione lean è diversa dall’altra a causa delle differenze culturali e processuali all’interno delle varie organizzazioni. Pertanto non si può usare un approccio unico (descritto in qualche libro) come l’unico modo di fare: bisogna seguire i bisogni che avete voi e il valore che volete offrire ai vostri clienti (traduzione automatica) […]

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