Difficulties With Changing To A Lean Culture Part 03 By Mike Thelen
Difficulties with Changing to a Lean Culture: Part III
LEAN vs. L.A.M.E.
Where will the “human-side” of Lean hit you? Mike Thelen shares experiences with true LEAN, versus cosmetic
(or JB Weld) initiatives in Part III.
As is the case with any Lean implementation in a Traditional environment, culture (or more specifically culture
change) will be the most difficult obstacle to success. While a company can hire consultants, develop work
teams, and even begin Lean initiatives, if the company only "talks the talk", the initiative soon becomes just that,
LEAN vs. L.A.M.E.
Mark Graban, host of www.leanblog.org and consultant (not to mention someone who is quickly becoming a
good LEAN friend!), once posted a web log topic on LEAN or LAME (a phrase he coined). That topic drew a
variety of comments from his readership. He described L.A.M.E. as Lean As Misguidedly Executed
[http://www.leanblog.org/2007/03/lean-or-lame.html]. It was his description of the term “Lean” that so many
companies use to describe their efforts. He was referring to the number of implementations that are not based
on true LEAN principles, but on using Lean tools to maximize short-term benefits, reduce headcounts, and even
to look good to current or potential customers (with no real intent to walk the walk). Many web logs, forums and
other mediums of communication gravitate toward conversations that fit this model.
In our corporation, I am fortunate (blessed?) to work with an external consulting group. Their objective is to help
us understand the LEAN or TPS philosophy and guide us down the path. This group is made up of previous
TMMC and TSSC personnel. One consultant was previously a team lead at TMM, another a Supplier Logistics
manager, another from the HR arena, and yet another from the Supplier side to TMMC. Each of these people
spent 20+ years in the Toyota system living and learning.
Why is that important? Because they have the TRUE understanding of Lean...NOT the twisted, shortened,
cheapened, Americanized version of Lean that many consulting firms seem to be making lots of money from.
Yes, I know that will offend many people, but there ARE consulting groups who are just as guilty as
manufacturers for using L.A.M.E. and calling it LEAN.
I’ve seen and heard many comments from others on these web logs, forums and news outlets (some just
dabbling in the LEAN arena, others researching, and some simply trying to discredit LEAN). Some say the
attitude they have witnessed by technical experts is usually condescending or disrespectful. They say humility
or respect does not appear to be one of the prerequisites for Lean or Kaizen consultants. I’ve also been
informed that they fail to develop people as a whole, with no concern for understanding how people interact with
each other, their environment or unique circumstances.
True LEAN does not support this. One of the MAJOR components of LEAN is RESPECT FOR PEOPLE. Most
U.S. companies fail miserably at this. It seems as though this happens for one of two reasons. Either the
company is quick to say “we’re not Toyota, we don’t build cars!” or the company is simply interested in the tools
for immediate impact, not long-term survival and success. True LEAN works hard to develop people at all levels
and recognizes that true experts are those who make the product/run the machine. True LEAN respects and
listens to the customer. That customer is defined as: Shareholders, Internal and External Customers,
Employees and Community. All have equal weight.
From Toyota, concerning the mission statement of TMMK:
“It is an important aspect of TMMK's Company Philosophy that TMMK, as a part of
American society, is deeply committed to be a good corporate citizen making its best
effort to benefit the community where it actually operates and its team members and
customers live. TMMK believes that helping improve the quality of life is an essential
Note that it doesn’t say anything about making their shareholders rich. It doesn’t say win at any cost. It doesn’t
say be #1 in the auto industry. It simply says they will be responsible in their actions and answer to their
physical community in which they do business.
I’ve also heard LEAN is a production tool. It is a Manufacturing System. All it does is help produce parts.
There was even a response that Corporate Management had no responsibilities to LEAN, as they need to focus
on more important decisions, such as long-term goals of the organization.
LEAN is about waste elimination, not just in operations, but in all aspects of a business. Look at the current
drive in LEAN initiatives - Accounting, HR, Sales, etc. LEAN is about sacrificing the short-term for the long-term.
LEAN short-term vision is 0-10 years, where LEAN long-term vision is 10-50 years. At a corporate-level
discussion recently, I found that our company traditionally considers long-term to be 3-5 years, where the
direction at Toyota is conceptually out 50 years from today. Will they meet long-term objectives at that range?
Maybe, maybe not. But they have a vision that they are constantly working toward. So LEAN is a long-term,
Corporate-level responsibility as well. ALL levels of management are responsible for deploying Lean and
working under the continuous improvement strategy.
Just recently, a hospital administrator was commenting on their Lean journey. The hospital passed a
certification process established by a joint commission. They only had 8 requirements for improvement noted,
where most hospitals have 10 or more. Now, this hospital is pretty proactive and is moving in the right direction,
however…When the comments started flying about 8 being too many (more so when you consider his response
was merely that they knew about all 8 and all are scheduled to be corrected in the next few months) he quickly
showed his L.A.M.E. background. He was quick to comment, “Not offered as an excuse, but just part of the
explanation: Please remember that this is not a manufacturing process, with constant production of a
constrained set of identical products. Remember, too, that a key component of our workforce (i.e, the doctors)
are not employees and are therefore not subject to the kind of direction and supervision of employed staff.” He
then went on to say, “The difference is between producing say, 12 or even 20 identical products, really well over
and over -- and producing highly personalized and individualized medical services 600,000 times one at a time.”
For reference, one of the defects was unsecured gas tanks, a potentially devistating and destructive defect
(enough to physically level a hospital, I’m told) and another was doctors not washing their hands between
patients (makes me nervous).
Very few manufacturing facilities make 12 or 20 identical products. In previous experience, I have worked with
5000 standard part numbers and 1500 standard part numbers. Neither of those examples include custom part
numbers, which usually tripled (or greater) the number of products. Also, 600,000 medical services? Sounds
like an old Statistics class, “show me a statistic and I’ll show you one exactly opposite.” If we want, we can
make any excuse in the world. Still, an apendectimy is an apendectimy. Lab work is Lab work. Doctors check
reflexes the same way, regardless of the number individuals in for medical services. Does anyone really believe
that the patient registration or billing processes are unique for each patient?
It truly concerns me that so many people are getting only a limited perspective of what LEAN is. Then we, as
LEAN practitioners, wonder why there is such a negative connotation to LEAN. As I recently posted on a web
log, I am working with the local universities on being a guest lecturer at both Business Club meetings and
Business classes. My goal is to bring true LEAN into the classroom BEFORE our youth get into the business
world and are corrupted by both Traditional and L.A.M.E. business practices. I think the LEAN environment
would benefit greatly if we could do more of this. Educate people on both the Tools and Culture of LEAN, not
just one or the other.
There is no magic pill for Lean initiatives. The Lean process requires time, commitment, and determination.
Companies that cannot envision the long-term commitment to Lean, and only use the tools for short-term gain,
will achieve some limited success. However, without the culture supporting those tools, the Lean initiative will
fail, becoming the "flavor of the week" that everyone knew would not last.
This quote from Konusuke Matsushita sums this article nicely, “We will win and you will lose. You cannot do
anything because your failure is an internal disease. Your companies are based on Taylor’s principles. Worse,
your heads are Taylorized too. You firmly believe that sound management means executives on the one side
and workers on the other, on the one side men who think and on the other side men who only work.”
Mike Thelen is Lean Facilitator at Aberdeen, SD based Hub City, Inc., a subsidiary of the Regal-Beloit Corporation, Beloit,
WI. He has led Lean Initiatives in positions from Front-Line Supervisor to System Facilitator in various corporations since
2001. Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.