The Lean-Industrial Complex

In the early days, late 1970s to late 1980s, there existed just a few small organizations to help people learn about and implement Toyota’s production system (TPS). They were led by people with decades of hand-on practice at Toyota and its affiliated companies. Some organizations, however, were led by people who only studied TPS and judged that to be sufficient qualification to engage in training and consulting.

Then in 1988, along came “Lean Production,” the generic name given to TPS. For many of us, this and subsequent writing about Lean production were a great revelation. Inspired and enthusiastic, we began our so-called Lean journeys. In the mid- to late-1990s, more organizations emerged to service a growing interest in the many related facets of Lean production: accounting, new product development, training and development, information technology, and so on. Around 2007, the focus finally shifted from Lean production to Lean management, with an new emphasis on Lean leadership.

Over time, the people with decades of hands-on practice in real-world settings would fall into the background, while the people who merely studied TPS emerged as the arbiters of Lean thought and Lean practice. That such a thing could happen is remarkable give that Lean is rooted in hands-on daily practice over many, many years. They and their organizations found a large and ready following. As the years passed, these organizations grew in size and scope, creating the Lean-industrial complex that we now see.

lic3The Lean-industrial complex is a coalition of groups that share vested interests in the continuous sale of products – most of which you do not need – to expanding markets. Increasingly, they have become partners with one another in various endeavors. The Lean-industrial complex continues to grow, with ever-more conferences, speeches, presentations, training courses, magazines, books, blogs, videos, certifications, etc., and with ever-more glitz and glam.

Yet, we continue to see mostly Fake Lean or low levels of Lean achievement. Can this be considered a success? Has value been received for the money spent? Will further growth of the Lean-industrial complex lead to success for its customers seeking to “become Lean,” or is the measure of success the income statement and balance sheet of organizations in the Lean-industrial complex? The question arises: Whose interests are the Lean-industrial complex serving? Themselves or their customers?

The Lean-industrial complex has become very influential on a subject that you could figure out all by yourself. You need only two things: The spark of an idea – flow – and the brain between your ears to figure out how to make flow happen in your organization. And, if needed, you could refer to a few very good books, written by experienced, hands-on TPS practitioners, to provide inspiration and basic direction. You do not need much more than that.

I am not affiliated with the Lean-industrial complex. Being unaffiliated, and therefore not part of the establishment, offers advantages that I perceive as valuable; likely you do as well. Don’t forget, after working in industry for 15 years I became a professor – a teacher, someone who mission is to serve others. In this role, independence of thought and action is held in the highest regard. It’s called “academic freedom.” Therefore, I analyze, I compliment, and I criticize, and I do so free of any conflicts of interests. (By the way, the Lean-Industrial complex is largely opaque when it comes to conflicts of interests, and therefore its integrity should be questioned).

It turns out that there are very few people who will call out the Lean establishment big names or shine a light on important problems. That is a symptom of a like-minded, non-critical thinking body of Lean leaders. This is a non-Lean way of thinking among the supposedly PDCA-A3-Ask Why? people. While this kind of talk does not make me friends among top Lean establishment figures, this is how a teacher should serve the Lean community.

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop