Leanies of the World, Unite!
Yesterday, I blogged about how a nurses' union in Canada was supporting the province's lean healthcare activities for improving patient care.
Going back a few weeks, I blogged about a union website's criticism of what they described as “Lean” in some hotels. I put “Lean” in quotes because much of what the union wrote about sounded more like “L.A.M.E.” (Lean As Misguidedly Executed, as I coined it a few years back)., not real Lean.
There's nothing, unfortunately, stopping any company or organization from practicing what Jim Womack has called “stupid meanness” in the name of what they call “Lean.” Managers could say they are implementing “systems thinking” while doing bad things that would make that crowd squirm and cringe. Bad management is bad management.
True “Lean,” based on the Toyota Production System, starts with the customer and includes the ideal of “respect for people” (meaning their employees, among others). If hotels use Lean as a mindless “speed up” program where employees are pressured to work faster, or if more people are getting hurt, or if employees aren't included in the process, that's L.A.M.E.
So in the light of that original union criticism, I tried to defend Lean to try to help clarify that not all Lean efforts are equal. Just because some people do bad things in the name of Lean, that doesn't mean Lean should be discounted completely as a methodology.
The union wrote back with a second post, linked at the top of this post and also here. They made fun of our use of the term “lean community” but, hey, the union folks call each other “brothers and sisters,” so there's no monopoly on curious sounding terms. My point isn't to get into a tit-for-tat with the union… so back to the topic at hand.
The union writer, Chris Kutalik, gives our “community” some credit for being “high-minded” in defending what's really Lean vs. L.A.M.E. It's fair to say that many (or most) of us reading my blog on a regular basis do show respect for people and don't want people getting hurt.
Kutalik says that Lean, ideally, is about eliminating waste. He forgets (or doesn't know) the “respect for people” principle. Does Toyota live up to that ideal perfectly? No, they are human. But at least Toyota sets the bar high, unlike a lot of companies who practice the “to hell with people” principle.
“In theory, a more efficiently-organized workplace would be a safer, happier workplace.”
Yes, that's absolutely true when Real Lean is being practiced. It's not just “theory.”
They trot out a study or two that supposedly proves (extrapolating) that all Lean efforts make workers miserable and hurt people. That's not true, their criticism is overgeneralizing by far. I have helped teach Lean methods and thinking to professional staff members and managers in many hospitals where morale improved dramatically (in measurable ways, based on survey data). Lean done right creates a happier, more engaged, fulfilled workforce. L.A.M.E. creates frustration and cynicism (so does bad management under any label).
Even if we disagree on the extent of how common place “L.A.M.E.” is, I'll give them credit for coining a new “L.A.M.E.” acronym: “Lean As Mainly Experienced.” I'm going to add that to my repertoire.
“[Lean] has frequently meant fewer workers doing more work in jobs they control less and less.”
Real Lean is about giving MORE control to people doing the real work. Lean leaders give up their old command-and-control mindsets and allow people to practice “kaizen,” making their work easier and better serving customer needs.
We're on common ground with Chris. I appreciate people also standing up to criticize L.A.M.E. when we see it – taking control away from people is certainly L.A.M.E.
I think we need to do more, to unite and speak up to defend the ideals of what Lean is supposed to represent. When other groups unfairly criticize Lean as being “just a bunch of tools,” we need to speak up and remind people that Lean is a philosophy and management system. When consultants promise “fast Lean” or simple prescriptions that can be blindly followed, we need to speak up and say, “No, Lean is hard, and it requires you to think, not copy.”
A friend suggested we need a support group to deal with this sort of unfair, overly broad criticism. Maybe this blog is that support group. If you see articles representing “L.A.M.E.” of any form, share them with me. As the union suggests, the “Real Lean Production” does indeed need to stand up… and speak up. I've registered the domain “LAMEnotLean.com” — what should we do with as a “community”?
Thanks to Labor Notes and Kutalik for spurring us to action.