Jim Womack’s Observations and Reflections on the Evolution of Lean [Podcast]

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My guest for Episode #499 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast is James P. Womack. Jim really needs no introduction for this audience, he's the founder of the Lean Enterprise Institute (in 1987) and remains a senior advisor to them.

In the late eighties, he and Dan Jones led MIT's International Motor Vehicle Research Program (IMVP), which introduced the term “lean” to describe Toyota's revolutionary management system.

Based on that research, Womack coauthored The Machine That Changed the World (Macmillan/Rawson Associates, 1990), Lean Thinking (Simon & Schuster, 1996), Lean Solutions (Simon & Schuster, 2005), and Seeing the Whole Value Stream (Lean Enterprise Institute, 2011).  

Jim was really gracious and helpful to me in being an early guest on this podcast, going back to Episode 12 in late 2006 when we talked about Lean in China. Today is his 8th appearance on the podcast: 7 times solo and once last September as part of a group that did a post-game show with me after the GE Lean Mindset event.

I've seen and talked with Jim many times over the past decade, so it's totally my fault that I haven't had him on since 2011. When I asked him to come back to help celebrate 500 episodes, he quickly agreed — and I'll have him back again much sooner than this last gap between appearances.

In today's episode, Jim shares reflections and stories on a number of companies, countries, and topics, including:

  • China and Vietnam
  • GM, Toyota, Boeing, Danaher, Rivian, and Tesa

And he answers some questions that were suggested by LinkedIn commenters.

Questions, Notes, and Highlights:

  • I think listeners would love to know what keeps you busy these days in the world of Lean?
  • Planet Lean – celebrating 10 years
  • A few people asked: How can we influence a union to start embracing Lean, when the union at our company has been actively against it from the start?
  • Lean in China – almost 18 years ago episode – Episode 12 — Thoughts on how things have evolved?
  • Has Tesla ever invited you to visit their gemba?
  • Which companies does he consider to be Lean exemplars in the United States?
  • What do you think we, as a Lean community, could/should do better?
  • Read Ed Schein's Organizational Culture and Leadership
  • Did you ever meet Dr. Deming?

The podcast is brought to you by Stiles Associates, the premier executive search firm specializing in the placement of Lean Transformation executives. With a track record of success spanning over 30 years, it's been the trusted partner for the manufacturing, private equity, and healthcare sectors. Learn more.

This episode is also brought to you by “The Optimistic Outlook,” hosted by Barbara Humpton, CEO of Siemens USA. This podcast is a hub for those passionate about transformative concepts that shape both our workplaces and our world. Find it in your favorite podcast app.

This podcast is part of the #LeanCommunicators network



Video Clips From the Episode:

Find clips on YouTube (to be released during the days of Feb 28 and Feb 29):


Thanks for listening or watching!

This podcast is part of the Lean Communicators network — check it out!


Automated Transcript (Not Guaranteed to be Defect Free)

Mark Graban:
It's good to have you back here again. We've talked fairly frequently over these years. It's been a long time since I've had you on the podcast, which is nobody's fault but my own for not asking. So thank you for accepting the invitation to come back here, and I think a lot of people would be curious just for some updates on what are you keeping busy with these days? Your role has evolved with Lei, but you're still very actively traveling the world and learning and helping people.

Mark Graban:
What's going on?

Jim Womack:
Well, I do what comes up. The nice thing about being my age is that not worried about the great long-term forecast. I just do what comes up. It's not some master plan. Right now, as I speak, I'm in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, known to Americans from history as Saigon in South Vietnam back in the 60s when I did a lot of thinking about this, since I didn't want to come here.

Jim Womack:
And this is a gig for the Asia School of Business in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, where I am a visiting professor. And the visiting part, they certainly got right. I'm not sure whether I'm really a professor. That school was set up by MIT under contract starting back in 2016. And so I come out every year except the pandemic years to do basically an A3 exercise with a group of mid-level executives who've gone back mid-career for an MBA.

Jim Womack:
And we're at a garment company that's a retailer, garment company Threads. They make yarn, they make cloth, they make garments. They've got retail in East Asia, and the founder of that company is also one of the board members of the school. So there's a kind of mutual support here. So anyway, it's good fun.

Jim Womack:
This is a week of trying to go from Monday morning, where the question is, what is the problem? Company has given us a number of problems that they would like some help on. And by Friday afternoon at report out, we hope to have gone through an A3 cycle of trying to truly understand the background, what the problem is, not just the presenting problem, but the root cause problem, what might be done to countermeasure the problem, trying to look at three or four alternatives. In each case, got ten problems we're working on. And then what kind of experiments could we run?

Jim Womack:
What could the company run after we leave to see if these countermeasures are in fact countermeasures. And it's interesting. These are typical managers, mostly from East Asia. Not entirely, but mostly from East Asia. And like everybody else in the world, they're good system one thinkers that they just love to look at.

Jim Womack:
The situation may be entirely presenting symptoms rather than actual causes. And then they say, got it. I'm going to match it up with the pattern that I'm used to. There's the countermeasure, except what's called it a solution, and go do it. Get her done.

Jim Womack:
So it's fun to watch as they try to behave in a different way. Who knows how much benefit there is here? But it gets me out of the snow in Boston. It's 97 here today, supposed to be 99 tomorrow. I kind of like that.

Jim Womack:
I'm from Arkansas, and so I go out and take a walk, not in the heat of the day. I just came back from my walk through Saigon. So, anyway, I do that. I'm on the board at Lei, and I help out with LEI projects. I try to help Roberto Priolo with the Planet Lean.

Jim Womack:
We talk about things they might do, and I have some long standing interest in organizations and people who I have worked with in the past. Was just talking with John Krafcik on Whatsapp about where things are in the world, and he's doing some interesting things. Who knows? There might be some common things there don't know yet. So when things come up, I try to jump on them.

Jim Womack:
Not writing the next book. I might write the next book, but not writing the next book right now. And my wife is of a similar age, and we're in good health, and so it's kind of fun to go. My wife's in France as we speak, brushing up our high school French and immersion course. And by the time I get there in a week, well, perhaps she'll be able to help me communicate with the French, which I've never been able to do.

Jim Womack:
So we're going to drive around for a while down the south of France. That's about as gentle a thing as you can do. So that's know stuff. I do stuff.

Mark Graban:
You do stuff. We'll give a shout out and a congratulations to the team at Planet Lean. I saw they are just marking their five-year anniversary.

Jim Womack:
Oh, it's 10th anniversary.

Mark Graban:
10th year. My mistake. Ten years. Boy, time flies. Ten years.

Mark Graban:
Congratulations.

Jim Womack:
Yeah. They ought to have a larger audience. Roberto is a very talented editor. He comes up with all kinds of interesting stories, and I keep saying I should get back to writing for them. I used to do an item a month and just have not done that in the last few years.

Jim Womack:
Thought I would do it during the pandemic. It seemed like the pandemic would be a great time to write, and it turned out that if I don't have any gimba recently in my head, I just don't feel comfortable writing. So that the worst thing about the pandemic was the difficulty of gimbal, and so it slowed me down, but now I'm back to what I call age adjusted full speed.

Mark Graban:
Yeah. And then also looking back, I'm thinking about milestones and years. Lean Thinking was originally published in 1996. Is that right?

Jim Womack:
Lean Thinking was '96, machine that changed the world in 1990. Future of the Automobile, 1984. I don't think anybody on this podcast read that. And other books. Lean Solutions and seeing the whole and gemba walks and so forth.

Jim Womack:
Nobody goes ways back. But interesting thing about the Machine book, which we did in 1990, Dan Jones and Dan Roos, which was the summation of the first part of the MIT International Motor vehicle program that kept on going until 2008 when all the car company sponsors were trying to avoid bankruptcy and cut their contributions. But a very interesting book that it really described a complete system, an enterprise system, a lean enterprise that had a product and process development component and a supplier alignment and development component and a customer support component and a general management component and also a fulfillment that's from order through the production process, delivery component and the world. Read it as a book about factories because the assembly plant survey was so tangible, and everybody went on the fourth-grade car plant tour, I guess. So.

Jim Womack:
Quite amazing to me that the book says very clearly, if you really want to get the full result, you need to do the whole system. And nobody got that. Pretty amazing that Toyota got it. They didn't need to get it from me. So it's interesting what people hear, and the same thing with the lean thinking book, that what they heard was all tools.

Jim Womack:
It's just like going to Sears back in the old days with your dad and getting some tools, and you go home and you examine your tools, and you take your tools apart and never build anything. But by golly, you got a lot of tools. And everybody's got the shadow board with the and on here and the Kanban there all marked off and they're not used, but you got a full set. So that's one of the curious things that has happened on this journey.

Mark Graban:
Yeah. And I promise at some point, we'll get to some forward-looking comments, perhaps. But while we're taking a look back here, we did in Episode 19 have a discussion around revisiting the machine that changed the world. So I'll invite the listener to go back and check out episode 19 with whatever archaic technology we were using to record.

Jim Womack:
Yeah, back.

Mark Graban:
That was like 17 years ago. And I was also reflecting or remembering the other day, and in fact I still somewhere have the paper handouts from you coming to speak. It's been roughly 25 years since we had invited you to come speak to a class I was a student in at MIT in the then Leaders for Manufacturing program, now called Leaders for Global Operations. I know I have the paper with my scribbled notes somewhere. It would be fun to look at.

Mark Graban:
So I appreciate you coming and giving an introduction to lean thinking a lot of my classmates I'm not blaming them for anything. A lot of them went back to Boeing, which is maybe more a current day discussion of what Boeing may have learned and possibly forgot over time.

Jim Womack:
Well, it's interesting. Boeing is the classic case of the company that tried a lot of tools. The Shingijutsu guys made a fortune out there. One of the metaphors that's always, or the image that's always lived with me was that they tried to install moving assembly lines for most everything, I think not on the 747, but I went out at some point and they had a little tractor crawler that was pulling a 767 through this big assembly hall. And as they got to the very end, the last plane on the line was just full of missing parts, missing flaps, missing engines, missing broaders.

Jim Womack:
And so it was comical. So the general manager was there to keep me under control while walking through. And I said, what did you accomplish with your moving assembly line? Which Shingi always advocated as a forcing mechanism? It would force people to get the parts situation under control.

Jim Womack:
And he said, well, we get the airplanes to the rework building a lot. And that's what the man actually said. And he didn't mean that as a, well, you know, we can get them over to the rework building and check out a lot faster. Well, that's not quite what we had in mind. So, by the way, I don't know what happened on the Boeing thing.

Jim Womack:
Let's not speculate too much, but they've always had a lot of fuselage damage, shipping those 737 fuselages across the country, from Spirit in Wichita to Renton, and a lot of damage. And indeed, there is, in fact, a FAA approved bullet repair, bullet hole repair process. And so I don't know whether that plane, the reason they had to take the door plug out was because there had been damage, the fuselage on the way. Clearly, it was something they hardly ever did because the Boeing folks didn't know how to do it and certainly not how to put it back. But good grief, this is 2024.

Jim Womack:
You can check the calendar. I'm just sure that's right, 2024. And these rookie errors that don't seem to get better and maybe get worse. So anyway, look, and it's just such a shame for the country. It's not right that these guys can see.

Jim Womack:
So, if you will, relentlessly incompetent. And a lot of people tried to help them, but I tried to help them. So I do have something to complain about. They weren't very receptive. I told them a few things and they said, time for you to leave.

Mark Graban:
And that was, and this is reported in the news from Boeing executive comments so this is not speculation. You mentioned the rework building. What they're calling it these days is the shadow factory. And the executive comment was that there were more hours of labor content being spent reworking planes than had been spent initially assembling them, which is mind-boggling.

Jim Womack:
Yes, it is mind-boggling. How can it be? But look, the mentality of the management never changed and the relationship with the union never changed. And they really thought they couldn't fail. And almost any other company that wasn't in a tight duopoly would have failed.

Jim Womack:
Right. If just a regular company in a truly competitive market had this kind of performance, they would be guns up. But all there is out there is Airbus and the airlines. The last thing they want is to have one provider. So it's amazing what you can get away with when you don't have any competition.

Mark Graban:
Yeah, they're too big to fail. Applying that phrase now, I guess, not to banks. Just one other thing about Boeing. The initial NTSB report kind of formalized what had started off as basically Internet rumor, but now it's the NTSB saying that there had been some riveting defects, I believe, that traced back to spirit. So to take care of that, they had to remove the door plug.

Mark Graban:
And Boeing and Spirit are working side by side, and the door plug got put back on without four of those retention bolts.

Jim Womack:
Happened on non standard job that probably to do it well. Look, it's a job that was what they used to call traveled work that you got to the point in assembly where you ought to be installing something and you haven't got the part. And so therefore, you go ahead and screw on the access panel, but do remember to fix it nine stations down and then nine stations down. The guys who are going to do it have actually never done that job. So there's a potential for quality and safety problems right there.

Jim Womack:
So here's a nice thing that they took the door plug out, the plane probably kept moving, and then the guys who put it in had probably never done that job. And gee whiz, they thought it just snapped snugly in place. It turned out you needed some bolts, but who knew? And somebody left them in the box anyway. So look, nobody got hurt.

Jim Womack:
Kind of amazing. There is a lot of redundancy in airplanes, right? Look, Boeing planes haven't been just routinely falling out of the sky. Right now it's more a business problem and a cost problem that it could become a safety problem. But it hasn't, at least as far as I know.

Jim Womack:
So far, yeah.

Mark Graban:
And to aviation's credit, like you said, nobody was killed, nobody was seriously hurt in that incident. But they take it as an opportunity of learning where in healthcare, where things aren't publicly visible, kind of a near miss, if you will, doesn't always trigger the same sort of learning, because in a way, it doesn't have to.

But I had solicited some questions from people on LinkedIn, and you mentioned union. And this question didn't come from Boeing people, but from a couple of different people asked a similar question in their organizations here in 2024, they're struggling to influence a union to start embracing lean. The union has been sort of actively against it from the start.

Mark Graban:
In your travels, what advice would you have for leaders or a company in that situation, how to engage the union positively?

Jim Womack:
Well, my experience has been that basically, companies get the union they deserve, that if you actually do respect your people and you treat them right, there's always going to be some friction over economics. But if you don't respect your people and you don't treat them right, well, then a large part of unionization is about respect. And I think people are just approaching it as an economic thing about take-home pay, just don't get that. And by the way, this is a weird way to get respect. It doesn't really work very well because, in fact, you get contempt from the company when you sign in as a union member.

Jim Womack:
But the NUMMI guys worked perfectly okay with UAW to say that UAW was opposed lean from the very beginning. That's just not true. There were two sides to the UAW. One side was quite, really adamantly opposed, and the other side, the people that I talked to, said, hey, let's get on with this. And of all the ups and downs that Numi had over the years, I don't think the union was the problem.

Jim Womack:
Whereas at Van Nuys and at Fremont before, and those are the California plants, the union relations were just horrible, and they had thousands and thousands of grievances, and the union members just took great pleasure in filing grievances that all had to be adjudicated and just dragged down the whole system. So, look, I continue to think that you get what it's a reciprocal of what do you think? And the IAM was always pretty cold on this, but I was Boeing at a time when the guys I was talking with in the IAM were saying, hey, look, we can do this. We're trying to protect jobs. We're not completely oblivious to productivity.

Jim Womack:
But, boy, those managers sure don't respect us. And by the way, they don't know anything either. That's the other thing that managers who don't know Gemba and don't know the work, it's just hard to have respect. I had a guy on an unnamed aerospace company that I had to go help once because the CEO told me to go help him. And he was a hypo guy who had gone to a brand-name business school, and he had to do a rotation through production and through purchasing and so forth.

Jim Womack:
And he absolutely had zero knowledge of the process that he was managing. And as we took a walk, it just got more and more embarrassing. And they finally pulled me aside and said, look, you don't get it. I'm a strategy guy. And I went to a premier business school and they promised me, if I can just get through this rotation, I can do the job that I've been trained to do.

Jim Womack:
And I said, well, gee, do you deserve to get through this rotation? You're building flight safety, critical parts, and you have not got a clue how anything works here. And by the way, all your people are laughing at you, all the rank and file. I mean, why wouldn't they be laughing at you? Okay, so if you're going to have the attitude that you should be respected because you're a hypo and you went to a brand name business school and you don't know anything about anything, well, gosh, just exactly why would you expect that?

Mark Graban:
It seems like a lot of these companies, I saw this at General Motors. There's long, long history of strife. It can be hard to reboot a relationship. I've seen times where a leadership change, not to the scale of NUMMI, is an opportunity to try to reboot that.

Jim Womack:
Right, right. And actually, I have to say one of the sad things about GM was it was a better company the day they filed for bankruptcy than it had ever been. And they had made quite a lot of progress after 2000. But that took them about 15 years to get from neutral into dry and totally unnecessary 1984, when we were launching our future of the auto book, Jack Smith came to give a talk at MIT. He's been the head of GM Europe, but became the president and the chairman and said, with the NUMMI thing, we figured it out.

Jim Womack:
We figured out what their tricks are. We know everything about how they do it. Now all we have to do is deploy it. And that was 1984. And it wasn't until after 2000 that they actually had any serious success in trying to deploy.

Jim Womack:
So, I mean, I don't know how do you explain that? But there it is.

Mark Graban:
Going back again. This is about 18 years ago, we did an episode together, episode twelve, where you were talking about lean in China. I think you had been traveling there quite a bit. What are your high-level thoughts on how China and manufacturing and lean have evolved over these past 18 years?

Jim Womack:
Well, first thing to say is that I have always felt, I still feel that the world is a better, happier place if all countries succeed, rather than some succeed and some fail, and indeed, in the extreme case, become a failed state, which you could argue is kind of where Russia is right now. So that I felt it was a good thing for the Chinese to learn a bit. And we have an institute in Shanghai that we've had now for many years. Marcus Chao, wonderful guy, grew up, was born in Shanghai, grew up in Taiwan, came to the States, was one of GM's key guys in China, and retired and came to run an institute. So I've been all over China.

Jim Womack:
Good grief. I have been through everything you can imagine. And to get started, what was so striking was just how horrible the management was. Just total top down command control, and just no feedback loops at all. Zero respect for the employees.

Jim Womack:
And over time, they've gotten better. The foreign investors were the key transmission mechanism of the Fords and the GMs that went in and had their kind of watered-down version of Toyota. And Toyota has been there for a very long time. Toyota had a parts plant before 1978 when Deng Xiaoping took over. So that there's been some improvement.

Jim Womack:
But I think, in general, that the story of Chinese manufacturing has kind of been the story of General Motors, that they could just never quite get their heads around it. And now, of course, some of the entrepreneur startups like BYD seem to be doing better. But the other part of the China thing was that from the american standpoint, it was just the happy hunting ground for labor arbitrage. So your American managers in the teens ought teens, you have a choice between trying to fix the mess you've created and just moving on, selling out, and going to China to get your needs. And so we started talking years ago about lean.

Jim Womack:
You know, before you move to China, do some lean math. And the thing you should ask yourself is, what if we applied the best, if you will, of lean to our current operation? What would that do to our productivity, quality, and lean time? And if we could do that, do we still need to go to China? And then if you think, well, yeah, still need to go to China, well, then please calculate the total cost, because so many American companies, the CEO said, purchasing, I want 20% of our buy from China, or 30% of our buy from China within a year, two years, or three years.

Jim Womack:
And the way they calculated cost was piece part price, plus slow freight. So then you say, well, gee, isn't there some country risk here, some currency risk? Isn't there a risk that your supplier is going to steal your IP and come into the business against you? Well, all of those costs were written down to zero. And all those engineers that went over to deal with quality problems and all of that excess inventory that you had to carry, including the 16 to 20 days across the Pacific, that was all written as zero.

Jim Womack:
So it's pretty easy to make the case that you'd be better off. My longtime friend and helper with LEI Matt Lovejoy at a little die injection operation up in the north side of Chicago. And he had a customer, one of his big customers was Kohler, which is right over the Wisconsin border. And the CEO of Kohler, this is now 2025 years ago, directed purchasing to buy 20% of their stuff from China within 18 months. And so Matt happened to also have an identical plant in Shanghai and another one in Sao Paulo, and a third one in Porto in Portugal.

Jim Womack:
And they called him up and said, we want you to make our stuff in China. And Matt said, I'm an hour and a half away, and I'm going to use the exact same equipment and same molds for a product that has no labor content. Why do you think it's better to do it in China? And they said, we don't care. Our CEO has said, we're going to do this and we're going to do this.

Jim Womack:
Our KPI is the percentage of our buy that is sourced from China. Okay. Good grief. Good grief. So anyway, there's been just a generation of foolishness, and people may be a little bit wised up.

Jim Womack:
Although here in Vietnam, they're certainly getting a big boom out of Western companies transferring stuff to Vietnam to get away from China. And there, the wage here is about half of the Chinese wage now. And the geopolitics are different, and they're hoping that they won't get put on some tariff list the way the Chinese are. So that the notion that now the US, and by the way, it's either party, everybody is kind of hot to trot on the. You know, that just because you're not going to get it from China does not mean you're going to make it in the States.

Jim Womack:
And by the way, if we really actually tried to repatriate a large fraction of the outsourced manufacturing, it would be a train wreck. This is going to take a long time. Doesn't make any difference what incentives are given or what tariffs are put on. Just take a long time to get it back to what would be more reasonable. In the machine boat 1990, we proposed a very simple concept, which was a world of regions, that we noted that there were going to be wage gradients for a long time to come.

Jim Womack:
But in every region, there was some cheap labor. And so in the far east of Europe and in the US, Latin America, and in the japanese kings of the hill in Asia at that point, but they needed some cheap labor. There was plenty to be found, for example, in Vietnam. So that really labor intensive product would go to low wage countries, and then the high tech capital intensive stuff could be done at home because there wasn't any labor content in it to begin with from a touch labor standpoint. So maybe that's where we're headed.

Jim Womack:
It's not such a clean situation as I've just described. But that look, my ideal would be that people take another look and say, gee, how much could we do close to the customer if we could just actually seriously execute on this lean stuff? And I hope at least a few people will actually think about that, and who knows? Maybe the right thing will be done at some point.

Mark Graban:
You talked, Jim, about Numi. You mentioned BYD, a Chinese producer of electric vehicles. That's starting to give Tesla a lot of competition. It sort of begs the question, have you ever been invited to return to the Numi building to do a gamba walk with the Tesla people who are now in.

Jim Womack:
No, no, they would never invite know. Musk was just adamant that none of those Toyota jerks were going to have any role in this thing at, you know, he actually said, I don't know, two years ago, said, I know more about manufacturing than anybody on the planet. He did say, why do people not crawl down laughing with this nonsense? I mean, just complete baloney. But no, I haven't been asked back.

Jim Womack:
And at this point, honestly, I don't have much patience. Look, good luck, guys, but I think it's going to get harder rather than easier. Yeah.

Mark Graban:
Have you had a chance to go to Gemba at Rivian? Our friend John Shook was helping Rivian, different electric vehicle maker.

Jim Womack:
Yeah, well, my old main man, John Krafcik is on the board at Rivian now. So he was the guy who was the head of the Waymo business for Google for what, five and a half years after he left Hyundai? No, I haven't been back. I was there just shortly after launch, and I picked up my Rivian. Guy Parsons and I had decided we would go get one, and we would share it in the sense that I would drive it till I got bored with it, and then he would take it over as if we had bought it together to begin with, which we did.

Jim Womack:
But look, it's a kind of classic thing that the venture community just has one thing in mind, and that's to get to the IPO. And to get to the IPO, they tell you you've got to have an actual production product, which is to say real production parts that were produced in a real factory. And you have to have that to show that you're over the hump. And now everything's going to be great. And so you see it over and over again, that Tesla, that's part of been their problem, that they have to go fast.

Jim Womack:
And when you go fast, of course, you leave out all of the things that you're going to need to do, and then you go very slow in the ramp. So they want to go fast to go fast. And I've said to everybody who's ever called me from those places, mostly hardly anybody from Tesla, that you have a choice. You can go slow to go fast, or you can go fast to go slow, which you want to do. And the answer is, smart play from the timing of the IPO, is go fast to go slow.

Jim Womack:
So that when Rivian went to the public, the deal was, we've got 140,000 units of capacity, and we'll get there real fast. And so last year, three years in, they got 70, and they've been Toyota. Well, they wouldn't have produced any the first year, and they would have produced 140 the second year. And that seems to be just impossible for people to deal with. That just amazing to me how little venture people know or care about how anything is actually done, because it's all about spend.

Jim Womack:
And it's supposed to be such an incredibly efficient system where nine out of ten companies funded never pay anything. But it's just exasperating that Musk has sort of normalized this notion of “production hell,” with Elon and his sleeping bag out on the line, trying to figure out why the totally automated Model 3 line didn't work at all, which is how we got the tent. And the tent was just a completely conventional manual line run inside a tent to save their butt, because they weren't going to be able to make anything on that highly capital intensive. And they threw out a billion bucks worth of mean, seriously, just ripped it up and threw it out because they could never get it to work after. Elon had said, by the way, he remembered, knows more about manufacturing than anyone on the planet that it was.

Jim Womack:
The guys would just try harder and work longer hours and he know, sleep at the end of the line until he got it fixed. And none of that ever know. It's really interesting. Here's just something I was thinking about the other day. The reality warp that Steve Jobs famously had, a reality warp that he could solemnly look at people and say, you know, you can do this.

Jim Womack:
You can do this if you really try. And the fact is, jobs didn't know how to do it and they didn't know how to do it. But there's a certain fraction of the human population that really responds to that. And so Musk has got his reality warp, which is actually pretty similar, and some people respond to it. But then before we get too far gone on those guys, Henry Ford had a reality that he didn't know how to do all that stuff that they did at the time of Highland park.

Jim Womack:
He would tell people it could be done and then say, I'll be back in an hour. And then, by the way, Taiichi Ohno really had a reality warp. He didn't have any idea what to do in these Kaizen projects. It's not to say he couldn't figure it out, but mainly he just found a few folks who really got wound up with that. And they did things that nobody knew how to do at the beginning, and they did them very quickly.

Jim Womack:
So it's interesting that so much of the time in life we spend time debating about whether something could be done at all. And then the second that one company does it, well, everybody else in the industry figures out how to do it in practically no time. So that the point of the reality warp is to simply convince people that it can be done. And then it turns out if they stop thinking about why it can't be done and put all their energy into how to do it, some of it can be done. But there were still lots of things that didn't work.

Jim Womack:
You remember Lake Ohno out behind the mother plant there in Toyota City, where supposedly Ohno at night buried all of his mistakes. And Henry Ford had a lot of things that didn't work. And Musk has had a lot of things that didn't work, and jobs had a lot of things that didn't work. So it just seems to be something that humans do, reality warping, and there's some good in it and, well, some bad.

Mark Graban:
There was another question that came in via LinkedIn. Mark Snaringer was wondering, what companies, Jim, do you consider to be lean exemplars in the US? Right.

Jim Womack:
Oh, well, on some days, Toyota, some. You know, I've had this odd kind of thing that on one level I get invited to go everywhere, and on another level, I'm never invited, and the organization's never invited me to Danaher. And I got into a trap where I was a friend of Art Byrne and some of the other guys, George Koenigsaecker, who thought that Art should be head of Danaher, that the Rales brothers had been the co-CEOs in the early days, then they decided to move up to be chairs and vice chairs and so forth and have someone else be the CEO. And so there was a smackdown between Art and George Sherman, and George won. And so I called up George and said, gee, I'd like to put you in the lean thinking book.

Jim Womack:
Okay, this is back in 1994, so can I come take a look? And George Sherman, what a guy. He said, I'm going to tell you what I think of this. And he put his cell phones, early days of cell phones, on top of the motor case in his 911, and went driving. And I could listen to him revving it.

Jim Womack:
And after a while, he picked up the phone and said, what do you think of my cams? And I said, well, about what I think of you, George, all that's unnecessary. So I was never allowed, and in fact, actually, I was told I would never appear on the property. And I've been, by the way, every company has a back door because there's somebody in the company who doesn't like the senior management. So I have been in a couple of Danaher plants, found them most unimpressive.

Jim Womack:
But I was there because they were in big trouble and they were scared it was what was going to happen when headquarters found out. And so therefore, they took the chance on letting me in to get a second opinion. But anyway, maybe Danaher is what they claim. Okay. I just don't know.

Jim Womack:
But I haven't been there because no one has ever let me in. And then there are lots of people who've got pieces, who've done things. If you go to a General Motors plant, they're pretty good. They're not quite Toyota, but they're pretty good, and they're good enough. I mean, GM wouldn't have failed because of the plants back in 2008.

Jim Womack:
They failed because of the sins of the past, that they had just run up a tremendous amount of debt and of course the pension cost and all that. So who's out there that, I think, is the ideal lean company? I haven't seen one, don't expect to see one. That Toyota, by the way, is not a completely constant thing. They sometimes are a bit better, sometimes a bit worse.

Jim Womack:
I went to a Kyushu in 2019, to the mother plant, Lexus, where Mr. Yokoi, who had been the head of TSSC, his final job in the company was to try to go back and get them on track. They had won all of the power awards for quality for years and did very well on productivity. And then they kind of fell off and got the wrong leadership in. And so he was sent down there to try to fix it up.

Jim Womack:
And I went right at the end of his tenure because he wanted to show me what he had done. And that was the best manufacturing I have ever seen or ever expect to see. They had three lines and they were running at 99% uptime. 99% uptime with quality judged to be the best assembly plant quality by power, and with really just no rework area. And that's hard to do.

Jim Womack:
By the way, on each of the lines they had about 1100 andon pulls a day, and yet they were running the line at 99%, which means that almost all of the andon pulls were responded to within the 60 or 72 second cycle time in a way that they could safely and with high quality keep running. Because the team leader came running up and figured out a short term countermeasure. Wow. That's the best I ever saw. And I don't expect to ever see anything better.

Jim Womack:
I mean, how can you be better? How can you run 100% when you've got 1100 people online and you're doing four different products, by the way, that everything has to be kitted because it's all being done in mixed model. I'd love to give you a list, but I don't have the list.

Mark Graban:
Sure. So we've talked a little bit of. We've looked back a little bit, have talked a little bit about current state. You've shared some thoughts about what you hope might happen coming forward in manufacturing. Maybe one last question here.

Mark Graban:
Maybe this hasn't exactly formally been an A3, but if we think about possible countermeasures or action items, we haven't really done a lot of root cause analysis. But Paul Critchley. Well, you've shared a little bit, but Paul Critchley asked, what do you think that we, as a lean community, could or should do better today and going forward?

Jim Womack:
Well, I think we've got tools. Everybody knows about the tools, by the way. Everybody should read Ed Shine's organizational culture and leadership books written a long time ago. I think he just finished the fifth edition when he died about 15 months ago. But he makes this in any culture, he says, look, there are artifacts, which is to say practices that people follow, and then those are justified by principles, but then underneath it are basic beliefs of what people really feel about how to deal with people, what's possible, and so forth.

Jim Womack:
And so I would say we've done an earnest job of trying to acquaint everybody everywhere with the toolkit. Everybody everywhere. And yet you see things all the time that they just didn't either get the principle or they didn't get the basic beliefs. One of the most amazing things that we populated the world with production control boards. And I have been on so many boardwalks, that's B-O-R-E-D boardwalks, in which the walk passed board after board, and the same problems are written over in the right column.

Jim Womack:
And you say, well, why don't we just work on one of those today? And they say, no, we're saving them for the OpEx team, which comes around periodically and accumulates them. And then they do Pareto analysis to look for the low hanging fruit. And that's the efficient way to do this. Say, wow, you're not going to be in business by the time, but the problem you're going to fix will be gone because the product run is already over.

Jim Womack:
So it's just amazing. How could anybody not understand that the whole point of the production control board is real time problem resolution. And just, he had a funny case with a guy who had just left Toyota, been an operating guy, and went to another big company, had a big opex team. And we went out the first day for the boardwalk, and there was a problem that was there. And he said, how long has it been there?

Jim Womack:
They kept running out of one part, and it turns out it'd been weeks. And he said, this Toyota guy said, well, look, why don't we just, where'd the part come from? It came from somebody in the plant, right? Oh, yeah. This guy around the corner says, let's go look.

Jim Womack:
And I said, we don't get time for that. I mean, that opex will come around. So he went trotting off around the corner and came back in about ten minutes and said, gee whiz, you've got two pin replenishment but there's only one pin. So that's why you run out of parts. I mean, come on.

Jim Womack:
And gee whiz. I mean, in that company, which is a household name company, and this is not that long ago, you saw that kind of thing all the time. So you got the production control board, you got the Obeya room where the lights are out because it's never used. You've got a so called pull system that actually is not a pull system. It's just managers trying to counteract MRP in real time.

Jim Womack:
So the part we didn't get was the basic daily management for stability and for real time problem resolution improvement management, which is not rework. That so many things that are caused. Kaizen called Kaizen that the company was performing at this level and something happened and then they got it back up to that level and they called that Kaizen. But in fact, this level and this level are the same level. Nothing was improved.

Jim Womack:
They just got it back on track. Okay, so that's problem solving, right? That's not Kaizen. Kaizen is about a sustainable improvement in important dimensions of performance. So people don't even know what Kaizen is.

Jim Womack:
How could that be? And then, by the way, just final thing that we still have this amazing thing that we got from Taylor about, there are a few smart people who do, by the way, on the Kaizen team. And then there are a whole bunch of dummies that are just told what to do. So that the notion that just regular people, high school degree GED people, if taught the Toyota eight point problem-solving method, could actually identify some of their own problems right where they are and could actually do something about them. And that line managers, if they weren't spending all of their time fighting fires, would actually have time to think about how to improve the process.

Jim Womack:
So what we did was say no. Line managers are just scorekeepers. And they check attendance and they look and see how they're doing on their KPIs. And to make their KPIs, they're going to do what it takes, which may not be good for the company or the customer, but that's what they're going to do. And then all the thinking is outsourced to the quality team or the Kaizen team or the industrial engineering team or whatever.

Jim Womack:
And good grief, that's as bad as anything Taylor could have thought of. And there it is, right in front of these ideas are great ideas, nothing wrong with them. And people haven't come up with better ideas. It's a how do we do it? A question not what should we do?

Jim Womack:
And that gives me hope for the long term. By the way, there's no shortage of Muda and there's surely no shortage of mura, that things just seem to be more churning than ever. And then that gives you Muri, which is overburdened, what you do with your tongue hanging out as you try to get through the waves of mura. So we're not going to run out of problems. If we had actually solved everything, I guess I'd be kind of sad, because what are we going to do?

Jim Womack:
So the problems are still there. They're not getting away. They're not going to go away on their own. We still got great methods. We just need to do a little reflection on why it's been so hard to get our management thinking and our attitudes to our people to move in the direction that actually makes it possible to consistently reduce waste, reduce mural, remove Murray and make a better world.

Jim Womack:
That's what we need to.

Mark Graban:
And maybe this will just lead into a final question here. Jim, thank you for joining us late in the evening from Vietnam, where you're talking about putting out fires. I looked up the exact quote. It made me think of Dr. Deming, who said, stamping out fires is a lot of fun, but it's only putting things back the way they.

Jim Womack:
Yeah.

Mark Graban:
Did you ever get to meet Dr. Deming? I forget if I ever asked…

Jim Womack:
Yes, I did actually meet the good doctor that I went to Deming Study. And that was one of the most amazing things I ever saw was in Detroit. It must have been in '91, just after the machine book came out and somebody invited me to go to Deming study. And when I came in, they said, you will sit at the right hand of Deming. Good grief.

Jim Womack:
This was a promotion I was not expecting. And Deming was 90 or 91. And it was the funniest thing I think I've ever seen that they're doing dimming study. And Deming was seated at a table sideways to the audience and there were hundreds of people in the audience. And then there was a stage with the dais and there was a master of ceremonies and the guy got up and said, we're here to talk about Demmin's out of the crisis.

Jim Womack:
And our first speaker will explicate chapter six, page 14, verse nine. And this guy gets up and starts to talk about what Deming really meant. And there are people in the audience that start shouting at him, that's wrong. That's not what Deming meant. You don't understand Deming.

Jim Womack:
Seriously. They're standing up and shouting Deming sitting right there, right? And he's paying no attention whatsoever. Has a beautiful pad of paper, almost like vellum, and a gold pen. He gets out of his suit, he's wearing a black suit, and he starts doing math, I'm sitting right next to him.

Jim Womack:
It's this notation I've never seen. I don't know what this was, but cross it out, think about this. And then he'd do some more math, paid no attention whatever to the proceedings. And then at the end, the moderator got up and said, well, that's all we can do tonight. When can we meet again, Dr.

Jim Womack:
Deming? How about the 24 April? At which point, Deming reaches in his coat, looks at his calendar, and says, yes, that'll do, and then gets up and walks out. Now, does that explain why Deming study died out right after Deming died? And look, I think Dr.

Jim Womack:
Deming was a good fellow, and he did some great stuff, but there was also a fair bit of hokum, which people just had to have a savior to follow. And theology, that's one thing, but in manufacturing, that's another. So I thought, my gosh, wow. Need to know when to quit. And by the way, I think about it every time I go out to give a talk.

Jim Womack:
I say, jeez, maybe I've left my fastball at home, and I wouldn't want to wind up where dimming wound up. And by the way, he was not senile. He absolutely understood what was going on, but he was just off on a weird wavelength, and, boy, I don't want to wind up there. So. Cautionary tale.

Jim Womack:
Yeah.

Mark Graban:
And you don't want to be anyone's savior?

Jim Womack:
No. No, thanks. That's not my thing. Look, we don't have to worry about that. It's not going to happen.

Mark Graban:
Well, Jim, thank you. Oh, go ahead.

Jim Womack:
Yeah. I was going to say just one thing about the future that seems to me there's a lot of. Let me promote an idea which I call emotional heijunka. It seems to me that most of us are just way too up and down, that we have a bad patch and we think things are worse than they actually are. We have a good patch and we think they're better.

Jim Womack:
But you look at the kind of hype curve that goes with things. We've got the GPT thing now, which is going to take everybody's job away, and we've got AI and that whatever GPT doesn't take away, well, the rest of AI will take away, and we've got a world that's out of control, and that things are just more and more chaotic and there are more and more black swans. And it just. And come on. What we know about new technologies is that the immediate effect is generally much less than had been predicted and the long term effect is greater, but it's all a long term thing.

Jim Womack:
And the notion that the world is getting to be less stable and somehow or other, all the shortages that come up are due to JIT, which I find pretty amusing, because hardly anybody's done jit except Toyota and its suppliers. Come on, these are problems. We've had problems before. We'll have problems in the future. We're doing okay.

Jim Womack:
Everybody's not going to lose their job. The singularity is not here yet where the robots take over. There's just a lot of self inflicted headspace gloom that I think is just not realistic or accurate. I've just gone through. I've had quite a lot to.

Jim Womack:
I didn't mention at the beginning that I spent a lot of time over at MIT in the last few years as a fellow in the mobility initiative, trying to rethink mobility and this amazing wave of just crazy, wild optimism about evs and crazy, wild optimism about autonomy. And Dan Roos and I still talk to each other. Dan's chugging away. He's 85 or six now. No, that's not right.

Jim Womack:
He's probably 84. But anyway, when all of this stuff happened, which was really in 2009, when suddenly Uber came off the campus and ride asset sharing was possible, when the people at Google said, hey, we figured out the algorithms, we can really do autonomy, when the people at Tesla said, hey, these lithium batteries we've got are good enough, there's just this sudden notion that incredible things are going to happen incredibly quickly. And Dan and I said, this stuff is really interesting, really interesting. And it's really, really hard because it's socio technical stuff, each of these innovations requires people to really change what's inside their head with regard to how they deal with the world. And so this is going to be incredibly hard, but it's worth trying.

Jim Womack:
And so then everything was just up and up and up, and now suddenly, it's just amazing. Everybody in the car industry two years ago said that we'll have all electric vehicles by 2035. And now everybody says, I don't know, maybe never. And neither of those can be right. Okay?

Jim Womack:
So that's just my contribution to the broader public discussion, is the idea of emotional hijunctum that leveling is really good in production and product development and every other aspect of life. Why don't you level your emotions and life might be better. Okay.

Mark Graban:
Good food for thought there. I will take that to heart myself. So, Jim, thank you again for coming back on here. I wish, you know, safe travels on your work time and gallivanting around in the south of France. That sounds wonderful.

Jim Womack:
Yes, it does. Thank you. Hey, let's keep talking. You've done what, almost 500 of these podcasts.

Mark Graban:
Yes.

Jim Womack:
Before you get to 1000. Well, let's do this again.

Mark Graban:
Okay. Sooner than make the gap, my guest heijunka. I will gladly give you more slots in the podcast episode Heijunka Box.

Jim Womack:
Okay. Meet you here.

Mark Graban:
All right.

Jim Womack:
Okay, bye for now.


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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.

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