Energizing the Lean Movement


In America and elsewhere, many people look to the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) and its global network for leadership in the long fight to advance Lean management. People look to these organizations for new ideas and as inspiration to carry forward progressive management and progressive leadership. But in recent years, it seems that something is not right. As an outsider, my observations are:

  • Many changes in top leadership
  • Bureaucracy
  • Status quo
  • Dismissive of feedback
  • Unwilling or unable to confront the biggest problems
  • Little innovation
  • At times, poor or irrelevant communication

As Dr. Deming said, “Understanding comes from outside… It is only by that outside view that we get ahead.” While my observations may not be exactly on-target, things seem to have grown stale and confused in Lean-world. Here are some ideas for improvement that LEI, or similar organizations, may find useful for energizing the Lean movement:

  • Acknowledge the very long, transgenerational nature of leadership culture change and change in leaders’ habits of thought and action. This will set realistic expectations for the advancement of Lean and lead to improved and evolving strategies and tactics.
  • Make a clear shift in focus from “Lean for owners” to “Lean for workers” and the betterment of society and the planet.
  • Re-position Lean as a way to increase the incomes of heroic low-wage workers and produce outcomes that are better balanced and fairer. This can help gain the support of workers.
  • Help Lean practitioners understand and manage the many barriers that they inevitably encounter as they try to advance Lean in their organization.
  • Create and distribute a free playbook for safely advancing Lean management in hierarchical organizations (sorted by different levels of risk-taking by Lean practitioners).
  • Create and distribute a free, fact-based map showing where the Lean movement has been and what it has accomplished, and where it needs to go as well as barriers to overcome to further advance. This could serve as a type of work instruction so that people can focus their current and future efforts.
  • Reduce training and conference prices commensurate with current economic reality (recession/depression) and value.
  • Acknowledgment of and empathy for the dedicated Lean practitioners that worked tirelessly to advance Lean, but who suffered professionally for their efforts — e.g. bad performance review, sidelined, demoted, terminated, etc.
  • Establish “Lean Practitioner Appreciation Day” (or month), featuring a free global online conference. Speakers could be the people who are working in “the trenches” — shop and office workers and individual contributors plow forward no matter what. Their dedication deserves a big stage. Possibly select 28 August, the day Toyota Motor Corporation, Ltd. was established, or the month of August.
  • Create an online resume bank for those whose career has been negatively impacted by leaders who said they wanted Lean, but did not actually want Lean.
  • Conduct formal failure analysis of Lean transformations and disseminate the findings so that people can learn from the mistakes and struggles of others.
  • Less focus on Lean tools and much stronger focus on Toyota’s industrial engineering-based kaizen methods — technical skills development that produce business results that are good for all stakeholders.
  • Abandon the focus on leadership behaviors, which has long proven to be ineffective, and instead focus on structural impediments to the adoption of Lean management and the creation of Lean leaders (see here, here, here, and here).
  • Produce information about Lean management and leadership targeted to the few outlets that actually touch CEOs and other high-status individuals within and related to the business community.
  • Publish interviews or surveys of CEOs that document, in their own words, why they have little or no interest in progressive Lean management.
  • Create a low-budget, high quality YouTube TV show depicting a Lean transformation so that people (from CEO to citizen) can better understand Lean management and its many benefits (contrast to management and leadership dysfunction as depicted by The Office and entrenched classical management as depicted by Dilbert cartoons). Learn from Patagonia about film making here and here.
  • Organize political action to gain public support for ending classical management, given that its usefulness has long passed, it no longer meets the needs of the younger generations, and is bad for society and the planet.

Do you like any of these ideas? Can think of other ideas to energize the Lean movement?

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