Come on, WSJ, Why Drag “Lean” Into It?
While I was on vacation, the news (the BBC World Service, mainly) focused quite a lot on the BP oil spill in the gulf, including the world's reactions to the problem. While it seems a bit uncouth to criticize our formal British colonialists on the observance of Independence Day (don't say “Happy 5th of July!”), I feel like complaining about a U.S. institution – the Wall St. Journal.
The WSJ often totally gets it wrong about Lean when they are writing about Lean or the Toyota Production System. This time, they manage to drag the word “lean” into the discussion about BP, when it doesn't apply, of course.
The WSJ article from June 29 (“As CEO Hayward Remade BP, Safety, Cost Drives Clashed“) highlights the sad instances where BP and its leadership apparently repeatedly made bad decisions about safety — choosing to be cheap instead of doing the right thing.
Then the WSJ says this:
As investigators were questioning Atlantis' lean operation, top executives were praising it.
OK, well the WSJ clearly wasn't trying to relate BP to Toyota or Lean Manufacturing practices (I'll capitalize it when referring to the formal methodology). Actually, it's not the WSJ's fault here — they are using the colloquial, everyday use of the term lean, which is often used in a way that has nothing to do with Lean Manufacturing.
You have to hope (and assume) that people reading an article like that don't associate BP's bad choices with Lean, especially with Lean Healthcare. Calling BP a “lean operation” — as in understaffed and underspending on safety — has nothing to do with ThedaCare or other “lean operations” in healthcare.
Lean, TPS — real Lean — is a safety-first, quality-first approach. Again, that's why it's so frustrating to see Toyota stumble and struggle as they have.
Is this the WSJ's fault or is it another reason to wring our hands about why TPS was deemed “lean” by Jon Krafcik, Jim Womack, and the MIT research team that produced The Machine That Changed the World: The Story of Lean Production.
I think we've had some discussion about this before, but does the word “lean” get in the way in your implementation? Lean too often signifies to people things like “cutting to bone” or “not having enough” instead more positive concepts like reducing waste, giving the customer what they want, and having respect for people.
I'm less frustrated with the WSJ than I've been in other cases — In hindsight, I have rabbit ears about hearing the word “lean” in the context of bad safety and poor decision making. Your thoughts?