When the public first became aware of Lean production in 1988, and Toyota’s production system in the early 1970s, a small army of people leaped into action to do two things: 1) study TPS and Lean and 2) convince business leaders they should adopt Lean. That sounds like a reasonable plan. It was the same plan that the promoters of Scientific Management used over 100 years ago. But it didn’t work then and it has not worked now.
More than 30 years later there have been very few Lean transformations. This is at odds with the desired future state, expressed decades ago, where hundreds of large companies and thousands of mid- and small-size companies world-wide would become Lean enterprises, with many more to follow. So why didn’t things work out as planned? And why, to this day, do Lean promoters continue to do the same two things: 1) study TPS and Lean and 2) convince business leaders they should adopt Lean?
From the start, the promoters of Lean assumed they knew what business leaders wanted. They had hypotheses about leaders, their wants and needs, that turned out to be wrong. Why? Because they lacked a factual understanding of how leaders think and what is most important to them. Simply put, they did not bother to understand the current state of the people who lead organizations. The assumption, still in use today, has proven to be a big mistake.
The lack of uptake of Lean management by leaders is an important business problem. Yet, even the most prominent promoters of Lean management and Toyota’s management system declined to study this difficult problem. They thought it was a waste of time and instead have been engaged in various work-arounds that have had little or no impact. Given all the good things that can happen when a company transforms from classical management to Lean management, which I personally experienced for a time, one should not give up on trying to solve this problem. The first step is to understand the current state of leadership. That means to understand the thinking, habits of mind, values, interests, motivations, and culture of leadership. What I call “the institution of leadership.”
I and many others recognized in the early 2000s that there were very few Lean transformations. Between the mid-1990s to mid-2000s, I spent most of my time 1) studying TPS and Lean and 2) convincing business leaders they should adopt Lean. Beginning around 2007, I began my work to understand the current state of the institution of leadership. This was a long, 13-year journey of continuous study, analysis, and writing.
The six-volume REAL LEAN series of books documented my preliminary detailed analyses. In 2011, I distilled the key findings of the REAL LEAN series into the book Moving Forward Faster, which identifies 63 economic, social, political preconceptions that must diminish or be eliminated, and 21 historical facts that must be understood and acknowledged in order to have success with Lean management. But there was still more work to do.
I continued my work after 2011 and had several breakthroughs that enabled me to characterize the current state of the institution of leadership. My findings are presented in The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management: How Tradition Prevails and What to Do About It. It describes how the institution of leadership (“system of profound privilege”) obstructs progress. But, despite this great, seemingly thorough and comprehensive work, there was still more to do.
I wanted to examine the current state of the institution of leadership from a different direction using two new analytical methods: the interplay between irrational and rational thinking and aesthetics. My findings are presented in Irrational Institutions: Business, Its Leaders, and The Lean Movement. This book builds upon The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management and expands the understanding of the current state of leadership. But there was still more to do because this is a complex, deeply interwoven problem.
Presently, I am doing the research for the third book in this series, Management Mysterium (published April 2020), which builds upon the two earlier works, The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management and Irrational Institutions. In this volume I intend to further characterize the current state of the institution of leadership from a secular spiritual perspective. I expect to begin writing soon, but I am not yet sure if it will come to fruition. We shall see.
In defining and characterizing the current state of the institution of leadership, one can now move forward and develop many new ideas and countermeasures that will be more effective at convincing business leaders that they should adopt Lean management. Hopefully the next 30 years will produce better result than the last 30 years — if its not too late.