Does the Lean Enterprise Institute Have a Jutsu Shu?

Jim Womack, along with his co-authors, did a decent job as academics in the early-to-mid 1990s describing Toyota’s production system under the moniker “Lean.” The strength of their work may not have been in the details of TPS, and certainly not in the Toyota Way (especially “Respect for People“), but it was in describing the management SYSTEM and how it functioned.

Then, in 1997, the Lean Enterprise Institute was founded by Dr. Womack. Two years later, the first of many workbooks (Learning to See) and books describing what we now call “Lean tools” were published.

I recall being disappointed when Learning to See was published in 1999. I spoke to someone (M.S.) at LEI and said that the value stream mapping workbook would be interpreted by users as a tool. To help prevent that the cover should contain an icon of a puzzle to depict value stream maps as part of a much larger system of thinking and practice. My suggestion was ignored.

Recently, Jim has again lamented that people missed or ignored the system and instead went all-in for the tools. That, of course, was easily predictable based on the well-documented history of an earlier form of progressive management, Scientific Management.

In addition to the tendency for most people to ignore the system and focus on the tools, the Lean Enterprise Institutes’ business of selling Lean also ignored the system — not totally, but it certainly was not emphasized as much as it could have been. And today, most people think of LEI as a Lean tools shop, not as a sought-after facilitator for TPS-like systems in other companies. Whose job was it to emphasize the SYSTEM at the Lean Enterprise Institute for the last 25 years?

Jutsu Shu 2

By way of contrast, Chihiro Nakao, the principal of Shingijutsu Co., Ltd., is the Jutsu Shu, which means: “master [shu] of the technique [jutsu]” — where technique is the art and practice of kaizen. The Jutsu Shu‘s role is as follows:

Shingijutsu manages knowledge and quality through the organizational position called “Jutsu Shu.” This person is Shingijutsu’s oracle, the owner and maintainer of its wisdom, knowledge, practices and art. Shingijutsu’s sensei report to the Jutsu Shu their summaries of Kaizens with clients; in turn, the Jutsu Shu assimilates these results and may, if warranted, develop systemic adjustments to Shingijutsu’s procedures. The Jutsu Shu then broadcasts the adjustments to all sensei, usually through the medium of periodic board meetings that are attended by all. The authority structure in many organizations is topped in status by those people who control the money. Within Shingijutsu, authority is vested in who controls the knowledge, and this person is the Jutsu Shu.

Shingijutsu-Kaizen (2015), p. 15

Having been associated with Shingijutsu for 30 years (in a non-financial way, as a learner, practitioner, and writer), I can attest to the importance of the Jutsu Shu in assuring the effective management of knowledge, quality, and consistency in both business purpose and direction.

There has been an obvious, long-standing gap between Womack’s writing about the management system and what LEI has done since 1999 in its business of selling Lean by selling “Lean tools.” Did LEI have a Jutsu Shu who continuously emphasized the system and de-emphasize the tools? Is Dr. Womack LEIs Jutsu Shu? Are LEIs “senior advisors” the Jutsu Shu? Or, is there simply no “master of the technique?”

It probably does not matter. For most people today, and likely far into the future, Lean and the Lean Enterprise Institute are all about tools for solving common business problems, not for producing a new system. Tools are discrete products, and they make buyers and sellers happy. It is a good business to be in, but don’t expect any change to the current system.

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