Clearing the Lean Blog Backlog: Lemmings, Change, Lean, & Leadership


As I sometimes do, and although I've learn Safari is less of a heat-generating memory hog than is Chrome, I'm going to close out a bunch of open browser tabs and share some articles that caught my eye recently but don't merit full blog posts of their own.

As the year closes out and things slow down, I'll be cleaning out the LeanBlog backlog and trying to reduce inventory… at least a little bit at a time… with an overriding theme each time or without… so here we go:

Not Being Lean Lemmings

In his article, Andrew Hill writes:

“Managers sometimes stick with what was once deemed best practice simply because they never question why such methods still apply. In his book, Breaking Bad Habits, Prof Vermeulen cites Britain's broadsheet newspapers, whose format is a relic of a long-repealed tax on the number of pages printed.”

Methods like Lean (one “best practice”) mentioned in the article are supposed to fight against “the way we've always done things.” Some unhelpful Lean methods, such as “bowling charts” and “always start with 5S” become the new “way we've always done Lean.” We can do better.

Prof Vermeulen says that TQM (although it was not directly “architected” by Dr. Deming) was often applied in “idiosyncratic ways” by “U.S. imitators,” by adding practices like “performance management.” Does the same happen with Lean?

Prof Vermuelen says tire maker Michelin got into trouble by using Lean to improve productivity at the expense of agility. But does that really sound like Lean, becoming less agile? Not me. Maybe that was cost cutting disguised or mislabeled as “Lean?”

He adds:

“imperfect copying of methods, herd-like benchmarking against top-ranked rivals and an obsession with short-term results can sucker companies into bad habits.”

I'd also add, by the way, that the story about lemmings following each other off the cliff has been debunked as Disney-driven fake science.

Read more: Best practice can make lemmings of us all

Why Best Practices Don't Yokoten

I hope you enjoyed the webinar that KaiNexus and I hosted last week, where Dr. John Toussaint and Paul Pejsa from Catalysis presented about Lean collaboration and learning. If you missed it, you can view the recording.

I'd also like to share a recent article written by Toussaint and Dr. Monk Elmer on change management.

Some key points include:

A top-down approach rarely works; instead, clinics need the freedom to adapt standards to their own environment.


Without data showing better results from implementing a change, physician buy-in will be difficult


Having a process for identifying staff ideas for problem solving can also help improve the spread of best practices.

These might sound like common sense to my readers here, but these ideas are hardly the norm in organizations (and this analysis might have applicability beyond healthcare).

Read more: “Why Best Practices Fail to Spread


Nissan Leaders Lead the Way, After the Problems

No, Japanese manufacturers aren't perfect, as we see in articles about a number of companies falsifying quality data. That's pretty surprising and shameful, but Nissan executives are taking responsiblity instead of blaming “bad apples” and throwing workers under the bus, as American companies like Wells Fargo do when there are systemic problems.

Nissan Motor Co. Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa and other executives of the Japanese automaker are [voluntarily] returning a part of their salaries to show remorse over illegal vehicle inspections at the automaker's plants in Japan.

I presume they will not falsify data about that.

The CEO said:

“…it was “deplorable” that higher management was so out of touch.

“The style of our management was such that we did not fully understand the real situation on the ground,” Saikawa told reporters.

I hope they'll work to change that management style. Not every Japanese company spends enough time at “the gemba,” I guess.

Read more: “Nissan execs taking pay cuts over bogus vehicle inspections

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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. Hi Mark,

    I enjoy reading your articles and your insight regarding Lean. I began my journey over 8 years ago as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. I received my certification through the Department of Defense when I was in the U.S. Army.

    During my training Lean was only a small part of the training compared to the Six Sigma principles as it followed DMAIC for its core curriculum.

    It wasn’t until about two years ago that I began to understand how Lean is so much more than a one day block of instruction.

    It is my opinion that Lean is looked at by many in management as a tool rather than a culture or way of life.

    I’ve worked in healthcare and now am in manufacturing which has expanded my understanding and application of Lean. Unfortunately, most companies look at cost savings as the driving force for improvements which can be counterproductive when Lean is not part of the culture. Improvements are made with management best guess without regard to the impacts it may have on the Value Stream.

    As long as it saves money, the attitude is who cares how it was done, just that it gets done. If the focus isn’t about the customer, then a business is doomed to fail.

    Also, the organization I work for worries too much about ISO certification. In my opinion, ISO emphasizes too much on internal auditing and the time spent doing those internal audits which takes away from the goal of reducing waste. ISO focuses on management systems, not the processes, even though it does include checks on process verifications, etc. People tend to shortcut things in order to get a check on the block to pass an inspection.

    If Lean was truly realized and implemented as a culture then any audit would theoretically take care of itself. I was curious as to your thoughts regarding the compatibility of ISO and Lean? Thanks again for all your thoughts and advice!!

    • Hi Jeremy – Thanks for your comment. I think everything you said is on the money.

      I’m not an ISO expert, but 20 years ago, I worked in a factory with really bad quality that was… ISO certified. Back then, at least, ISO certification meant you had learned to get ISO certified. You might be following a bad process, but ISO was more focused on documentation and “do what you say you’re going to do” even if that process produced a lot of defects.

      I agree with your assessment that most Lean Sigma programs are heavily tilted toward Six Sigma content, as I’ve blogged about before:

      Lean Sigma = Lean Plus Six Sigma or Six Sigma With Just a Little Lean?


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