Fundamentally, what was the development of Toyota’s production system about? Why was there a need for it? It was about employees in a small start-up company working to find ways to produce motor vehicles in low volume and at low cost. So what? Well, what that means is TPS was (and is) a lived human experience in destroying preconceptions* — breaking the status quo.
Economies of scale curve (“Preconceptions”) compared to flow curve (“Preconceptions Destroyed”). Click on image to enlarge.
The age of mass production (dating to the late-18th to mid-19th century) introduced the widespread preconception that low costs can only be achieved by producing goods in high volumes. Ever since then, business leaders have religiously pursued economies of scale (labeled “Preconceptions”). But as the image at right shows, the dependence of cost on volume weakens greatly when flow is achieved (labeled “Preconceptions Destroyed”).
Flow destroys the preconception of economies of scale. But to achieve flow in everyday work, scores of other preconceptions have to be destroyed. These include Just-in-Time, jidoka, kaizen (how to improve rapidly by trial-and-error), heijunka, takt, pull (kanban), plant layout, batch size, right-sizing machines, simplifying tooling, standard work, multi-process handling, multi-skill development, SMED, etc. The whole of TPS, and Toyota’s management practice generally, is about destroying preconceptions.
For decades, people have asked “Why is Toyota’s management system so hard to replicate?” Because preconceptions are so hard to destroy, and therefore the status quo is easy to maintain. Destroying preconceptions requires focused individual initiative and a special type of leader who allows people to break the status quo. However, modern business descends from the militaristic medieval social system of feudalism. In it, people are forbidden or discouraged to ask “Why?” They must accept the status quo and associated preconceptions because they are regarded as faithful to vested interests.
Despite feudalism being a long time in the past, some of its effects are still with us today. If an employee can accept “the system” as it is, then they are more likely to find meaning and satisfaction in life (which includes work). Those who cannot are tormented by a future state that they can easily see but cannot easily reach. To reach the future state requires teamwork. Yet, by my estimate, at least half of any corporate population is satisfied with the way things are — well enough to resist needed change, either overtly or covertly through passive-aggressive behaviors. Then, as we enter the realm of management, we find 95 percent or more who have little interest in destroying preconceptions and breaking the status quo. It as if there is a core (feudal) company within the larger (modern) corporation called “Status Quo, Inc.” that is incredibly efficient at providing a critically important fulfillment service to its customers (employees) — meaning and satisfaction in life.
Now 30 years into the Lean movement, we have gained a broad perspective on change, and its seems to take on two principal forms: emulative and factual. Factual means change has actually occurred through the lived human process of destroying preconceptions and the experience of creating new physical realities. This is uncommon, requiring the daily work of trial-and-error and the continuous development of skills and know-how as times change.
What appears to be far more common is emulation, which means people emulate others’ limited understanding and restricted practice of Lean thinking, Lean methods, and Lean tools, sufficient to create a convincing appearance of interest in change, but always securely within the boundaries of the status quo to assure no loss of meaning and satisfaction — which is more important than comprehensive changes in work methods. Emulation, however, may or may not be a conscious act. This static, limited understanding and practice of Lean reflects an acceptance of preconceptions and the status quo and shows the great power they both hold over the spread of Lean management.
As the feudal leadership mindset continues into the 21st century, it is confronted with interesting new decisions in regard to powerful emerging machine technologies (artificial intelligence, robotics, etc). Under these circumstances, the continuing failure to destroy preconceptions and break the status quo may no longer deliver meaning and satisfaction in life as it once did. Perhaps, then, more people will start asking “Why?” In contrast, the Toyota leadership mindset would seek to humanize the machines to keep the many and varied interests in a healthy, productive, and balanced relationship for the long-term.
Toyota’s management system will be more easily replicated when organizations replace their core company, Status Quo, Inc. with a new core company called “Destroy Preconceptions, Inc.” You will find that it delivers orders of magnitude more meaning and satisfaction than Status Quo, Inc.
* Preconceptions, being based on faulty, vague, or incomplete information, are a type of cognitive bias, one that takes a form more like that of superstitions, which are either sympathetic to the status quo or hostile to change. Leaders’ superstitions easily become followers’ superstitions, which, in turn, retards needed progress.
In Lean management, we speak of the current state, the future state, and the ideal state. But what about the past state? Why isn’t the past state also of interest? It should be, because the past informs the present — the current state — which in turn determines the probability of achieving desire future states. Unfortunately, the past state is embedded in the current state to a far greater extent than you can imagine. As a result, achieving future states turns out to be a low probability endeavor, just as most of us have learned from our own experiences with Lean.
Lean movement leaders have touched upon the past to a very limited degree, mainly in the context of earlier work that laid the foundation for today’s progressive management systems as defined by Toyota’s management system (TMS) and its derivative, Lean management (LM). They focused on Scientific Management and the work of pioneers such as Frederick Winslow Taylor, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, and their colleagues. Generally, they did a terrible job of understanding Taylor’s work, in particular (see examples here, here, and here), because they ignored primary sources of information and instead relied on secondary and tertiary sources.
Taylor, Gilbreth, and the others who joined them in creating Scientific Management and applying it in industry encountered the same problems that TMS and LM have encountered over the last 30 or 40 years. That repetition of history signals a thoroughly incomplete understanding of the past — the long ago past, well before early 20th century Scientific Management. The past state must be better understood in order to explain why TMS and LM, and SM before them, struggled to gain widespread acceptance among the heads of organizations — especially business leaders. For if business leaders do not accept progressive management, then it is unlikely that other leaders will. Business leaders are highly respected in society, and what they do is emulated by other leaders, whether they are in charge of non-profit, non-government, or government organizations.
Lean was thought to be the foremost method for replacing “command-and-control” leadership. It was assumed that leaders — business leaders in particular — want to become servant leaders. And it was assumed that employees want a better work experience compared to what they already have. It turns out that command-and-control remains popular among business leaders, while employees are happy (or happy enough) with that type of leader to be unwilling to demand change. So, both leaders and employees seem, overall, content with conservative classical management. But why is this so? Why is progressive management unappealing to most leaders and most employees?
This was the great mystery that, in an ideal state, would have been unraveled prior to introducing Lean to the public in the fall of 1988, so that desired future states could be achieved on a wider scale. But, the current state offered a different perspective. It said: “The times we live in, 1988, are different than 1911, and so we need not consider the past as we move forward into the future.” That was a big mistake. The view was: “We don’t care how the current state came to be. It is not important to our task of promoting Lean management.” Ah, but decades later, we now know how short sighted this well-intentioned view was. Knowing how the current state came to be is key that unlocks Lean success.
Scientific Management, Toyota management, and Lean management all have at their core the idea of bringing scientific thinking to the management of organizations. The twin assumption were: 1) leaders wanted to become better leaders, and 2) leaders would happily accept scientific thinking as the principal means for becoming better leaders. These were bad assumptions in 1911. These were bad assumptions in 1988. And they remain bad assumptions today. But why? Again, the past state informs the current state, which determines the probability of achieving desired future states. Yet, if we now take the time to understand the past state, we will be better able to realize future states — and maybe even ideal states.
So what is it about that past state that you need to know? My book, The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management: How Tradition Prevails and What to Do About It will inform you of the past state — the way past, and how it presents itself today. You’ll learn why most leaders are aren’t interested in becoming better leaders, why they are uninterested in scientific thinking, and why they remain committed to classical management. If you don’t take an interest in the past, the future states that you are lucky enough to create will be ephemeral. My hope is that you want to learn more than what you know now about the past state to substantially improve the probability of achieving desired future states.
For many years now, there has been a great emphasis in the Lean movement on the development of problem-solving skills. Specifically, teaching people how to think scientifically through the use of PDCA, kata, coaching, etc. Typically, the target audience for training in scientific thinking is working-level people, not managers or executives. The hope is that workers trained in scientific thinking will rise in their organizations to become managers and executives — maybe even president or CEO.
The hypothesis is that the person will carry this learned way of thinking — the habit of scientific thinking — to the top of the hierarchy and apply it. What is the basis for this hypothesis? What is the belief that informs the hypothesis? Is it valid? Unfortunately, the hypothesis is more of the character of a wish or dream. How do we know? The evidence has been in plain sight, in way or another, forever:
It is usual for a person trained for decades in scientific thinking, such as a scientist or engineer, to abandon that way of thinking soon after becoming a manager or executive.
Typically, workers are frustrated with their managers and executives. Why? Because the decisions they make are illogical — and thus obviously devoid of scientific thinking.
Management decisions are most often made with money in mind, typically to achieve a gain at some else’s expense. Such decisions reflect the rights and interests of business (de jure), not the actual work accountable to cause-and-effect (de facto). In other words, leaders, to a great extent, can do as they please, while workers must strictly attend to the unhallowed facts of their processes.
The existence of structural features in business that assure power-based relationships (e.g. organization chart, metrics, executive pay and perks, etc.) are more important than the facts as illuminated by scientific thinking.
The requirement that workers must use Lean tools and methods, while managers and executives are exempt from their use.
The often-said cliché about business, “The more things change, the more things stay the same,” is a testament to the lack of scientific thinking among leaders, and the dominance of the status quo as enabled by de jure thinking (i.e. “strategic complacency”).
Click on image to enlarge.
A funny thing happens on the way to the top of an organization. Scientific thinking dies. And it dies remarkably quickly — not in every case, but usually. Toyota’s management method, from which Lean is derived, relies on the application of scientific thinking in all levels of the organization. The ratio tilts towards de jure at the very top of an organization, even Toyota, because it is a necessary element of leadership practice. But de jure does not overtake de facto, and that is what is most important.
So now we must ask why, in most organizations, does scientific thinking die? The answer is not a simple one, unfortunately. If you want to defeat this problem (a Type 4 Problem in Art Smalley’s taxonomy), you will need to know a lot more than you know now. My book, The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management: How Tradition Prevails and What to Do About It will be your guide. In it, you will read a detailed analysis and confront a distasteful recitation of uncomfortable facts. You will also learn that root causes are a tangled, interconnected and interdependent network of elements — nothing so simple as a linear fishbone diagram or 5 Whys analysis. But reading it will be highly illuminating and thus worth it. With new knowledge comes new solutions to old problems.
In closing, are efforts today to teach workers PDCA, kata, coaching, etc., in vain? No, because the work still needs to get done and scientific thinking leads to needed improvements in products and processes, and hopefully makes work easier. Scientific thinking must live at the working level; if it does not live there, the company will die. Are efforts to teach PDCA, kata, coaching, etc., to managers and executives in vain? In most cases, yes. Business leaders do not respect scientific thinking because scientific thinking (de facto) does not, and will never, respect traditions, vested rights, privileges, etc. (de jure).
This is the sad truth, one that threatens the continued existence of Lean itself. This problem can only be corrected by broadening one’s understanding of the problem. I hope you enjoy my book.
Advancing Lean management is a relay race. The first leg is nearing completion. The baton was held by those who brought the Toyota production system (TPS) and Lean to public attention in the late-1970s through the mid-1990s. They ran the first leg well, but this first generation of Lean leaders is now all but retired.
Unfortunately, the thinking and methods they used to advance Lean have grown stagnant. Even the great Toyota’s methods to advance TPS to other organizations are in need of significant improvement.
The baton now passes into the second leg of the race, in the hope that the younger generation (20-to-40 somethings) grabs the baton and skillfully moves it forward. But the younger generation’s efforts to advance Lean management will be wasted if they adopt the thinking and methods of the older generation. Times have changed and much has been learned from the older generation’s efforts; the thinking and methods they used for advancing Lean management are no longer effective.
The younger generation’s efforts to advance Lean cannot come from the same base of knowledge as the older generation. New information is required to make progress in solving the biggest problem that Lean faces today: executive disinterest in Lean to replace classical management. That is the “elephant in the room” — the obvious and difficult problem that people prefer to ignore — but which can no longer be ignored. That new information is contained in my book, The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management: How Tradition Prevails and What to Do About It.
The Triumph of Classical Management is a detailed analysis of Lean’s existential problem, and provides a wealth of important new information and countless ideas for countermeasures. This is not about selling books and earning a few dollars in profit. It is about ensuring that the traditions associated with classical management do not extinguish Lean management. Every young Lean practitioner should read this book, and it should be the strategy handbook for the next leg of the relay race run by the younger generation of Lean leaders.
Consider this your official notification. It’s your time now and for the next 30 years.
It started with value stream maps in 1999. It was the first tool used for the purpose of generating additional interest in what was then called “Lean production.” From there, kata, A3 reports, coaching, leader standard work, gemba walks, Lean strategy deployment, and now Lean product development. One Lean tool after another has been featured to fuel interest in what we now call “Lean management.” These “flavor of the month” Lean tools have been a distraction from the fundamental, existential problem that Lean itself faces.
After 30 years, we have only a handful of noteworthy enterprise-wide Lean transformations. That is much less success than was anticipated 30 years ago, and this would seem to put Lean in existential crisis mode. The lack of executive interest in Lean as a system of management to replace classical management is the elephant in the room that has long been ignored. If we care about Lean and want it to have a future, this should be the focus of our study and problem-solving work.
Like many things, attitudes and interests change over time. For a few decades, we were told that butter was bad for human health and specialists recommended alternative fats. Today, we are told that butter is good for human consumption. Regardless of the merits of Lean, one can expect time to be unkind to it, as it was to earlier forms of progressive management. Furthermore, Lean management is being overtaken by a flood of new tools and methods.
For 30 years, Lean was seen as something great that every company must adopt. But attitudes and interests change over time. CEOs today have a broader perspective of the skills that employees must possess. They have become agnostic (unbiased) regarding the use of different tools, methods, and new technologies to solve the myriad problems that occur in each and every part of a business. The main requirement for CEOs is that employees fail fast, learn, and improve.
Declining interest in Lean among CEOs reduces it’s relevancy and threatens its existence. Time has clearly told us that most CEOs don’t want a new management system. Classical management is just fine. All that is CEOs want is employees with better problem-recognition and problem-solving skills, with greater focus on root causes, and more rapid execution of problem-solving to yield tangible improvements. Lean (as distinct from Toyota’s management system) evolved too slowly over the last 30 years and is being eclipsed by time. The remnants — selected Lean tools — will survive, just as they did with earlier forms of progressive management. They will be subsumed into classical management practice.
Curiously, Lean movement leaders chose to not address the “elephant in the room.” Perhaps they judged the problem too difficult or a waste of their time. In contrast I saw it as a challenging problem that must be carefully studied. I spent 12 years figuring out this and its related problems, which culminated in the publication of The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management last year. It carefully examines seven areas of resistance (or inertia, if you prefer) in great detail: economic, social, political, historical, philosophical, legal, and business. Embedded within these are psychological elements that glue the seven together. It is a distasteful necessity to point out these details because Lean management may one day be called into service for a far more pressing need than to “banish waste and creating wealth in your corporation” — survival. So, we have to know the details of why CEOs reject Lean management. It matters, now and in the future.
Corporations will always have a periodic need for some sort of transformation. The findings in Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management are not limited to Lean transformation. It applies to just about any corporate transformation. The need for transformation will not go away. Furthermore, the enormous amount of useful information generated about Lean leadership, Lean management, Lean transformation, and so on in the period from 1988 to 2018 will not be wasted. Lean management will remain appealing to the minority of CEOs who want to abandon inferior business principles and methods.
The elephant in the room, the lack of executive interest in Lean as a system of management to replace classical management, is not insurmountable. In the past, this problem was never understood well enough to do anything about it. Now, the problem is understood well enough to do something about it — to try new things in never-ending PDCA cycles. It is my hope that Lean movement leaders will stop relying on “flavor of the month” tools (fads) to fuel interest in Lean. There is no more return on those investments. Instead, the focus must be on the fundamental existential problem that Lean itself faces. That will be the true source of progress.
My full-time job since 1999 has been as a professor of Lean management at a university, where I teach both graduate and undergraduate courses. My areas of specializations are: Lean leadership, Lean management, management history, management decision failure analysis, and supply chain management. One of the job functions of professors is to share (and critique) knowledge that has been produced by other academics (and practitioners), as well as share one’s own research — their work in problem-solving. And so we continuously educate ourselves and other people, and we so so with an egalitarian spirit and with wholesome intentions.
Our purpose as teachers and as researchers, is, at the highest level, to help people — not just students, but any consumer of information. We teach people things, as best we can, under the various limitations we face, that they will hopefully find useful in their life and in their work. And we try to do this in the most accurate way possible, which includes examining minute details to help assure our understanding of facts, which we convey to others.
I am often asked, “Why do you write so much.” In large part, it is because it the job of professors to think, problem-solve, and explore the boundaries of knowledge in their respective fields. We conduct research, generate new knowledge, and share new knowledge, principally by writing academic research papers and books, but by other means such as engaging the public outside of the university. This includes, public speaking, interviews, webinars, blogs, and so on. This is just what professors do.
A professor engaged in teaching and researching Lean, especially one who has hands-on experience with Lean in both industry and academia, is a rare species among the vast array of Lean consultants, trainers, writers, and speakers. Because of my unique background, and the job of professor that requires one to think, I end up examining things in detail and then write about them. Long ago, I discovered that there can be a great distaste for this in some quarters of the Lean community. Simply put, they do not like someone to challenge the Lean movement leaders or upset what has become “settled” Lean knowledge or practice. This is an odd way for Lean thinkers to think. It is an odd way for skilled problem-solvers to react to other problem-solvers.
Because my problem-solving (research) looks at things others prefer to be left alone, I have been confronted by people, whom you would know, with bizarre claims. One person said to me (paraphrasing), “What makes you think you are the only one who knows Lean?” Such an odd thing to say coming from people who, like myself, know full well that it is impossible to know Lean — we’re never done learning. My writing reflects a dissatisfaction with what I know about Lean, not a satisfaction that I know Lean. I thought that was obvious, but apparently not.
Resopect for people proponets famously disrespectful and misleading…
One of W. Edwards Deming‘s great accomplishments was his creation of the “System of Profound Knowledge” (read more details here). The System of Profound Knowledge (SoPK) is described in Deming’s book, The New Economics. In its most basic terms, SoPK is a framework designed to enable progress in the practice of management, and hence progress in business, organizations, and society.
Deming recognized that the classical ways in which organizations are led and managed are archaic, bad for business, bad for people, and unable to keep up with the times. So he developed a framework, which, if adopted and practiced diligently by leaders, would transform organizations and result in better outcomes. SoPK was based on a combination of careful observation of the better-led and better-managed organizations, and precise, logical deductions of the thinking and practices that are effective (or ineffective). It is based on a systems-view of people and processes.
As is well-known by many, Toyota’s management system (TMS), and its derivative, Lean management (LM), is also based on a systems-view of people and processes. Deming’s SoPK, TMS, and LM all share similar characteristics in terms of laying the groundwork, in mindset, rules, and methods, for making sustained progress – i.e. to continuously improve, and do so in ways that respect humans, develop their capabilities, and which cause no harm.
SoPK, TMS, and LM are forms of progressive management have been around for 30 or more years. These are wonderful, practical improvements to archaic classical management; so good, in fact, that they are worthy of replacing classical management in its entirety. Such transformations have proven to be exceedingly rare, driven by the choices made by a few brave CEOs determined to lead and manage organizations differently than is usual. We are fortunate to have some good examples of transformed businesses that indisputably validate the work of Deming and others. But, as you will learn below, these wonderful examples (e.g. Toyota, Wiremold, Virginia Mason, etc.) are closer to a few happy accidents than they are to overturning the status quo.
The questions is, why hasn’t SoPK, TMS, and LM overtaken the inferior (classical) approach to leadership and management on a much broader scale? Unfortunately, the speculations and commonplace insights proffered over the decades have done nothing to satisfactorily answer this tremendously important question. Said another way, why is the status quo (classical management) preferred so much more than progress (progressive management)? What has been missing is a detailed analysis of the antithesis of SoPK.
System of Profound Privilege
My new book, The Triumph of Classical Management, identifies a countervailing force that successfully obstructs SoPK (and TMS, and LM), and therefore progress: “System of Profound Privilege” (SoPP). It illuminates the nature of the status quo, much preferred by leaders, in comprehensive and uncomfortable detail. Specifically, it examines the interconnected and interdependent economic, social, political, historical, philosophical, legal, and business factors that has cemented the status quo and thus retards progress – progress that is much need, if for no other reasons than times change and humans evolve.
Over time, people expect better in every aspect of their work and life. They expect to move forward, not backwards, and expect their children to be better off than they were. This is a fundamental aspect of human existence; hope and belief in a better future, minimally tainted by the whims of our leaders who stand above us.
Yet, the two systems, SoPK and SoPP, are profoundly antagonistic. They work against one another, and SoPP has vast superpowers over SoPK. That is why Deming’s vision of leadership and management, TMS, and LM have been so difficult to realize in practice, to make things better for people, in work and in life.
Transformation from classical management to SoPK, TMS, or LM are rare because they disrespect the rights and privileges of leaders, which generates potent, though usually silent, opposition. Furthermore, many aspects of SoPP were enshrined into law (e.g. Natural Rights, property rights, ownership, free markets) and codified in policy long ago, and thus SoPP has become deeply embedded in the common sense of the population. As a result, SoPK (TMS and LM as well) will almost always be the loser in the competition between these two profound systems. To borrow a recently popular phrase, “the system is rigged” against SoPK, TMS, and Lean.
So how do we make greater progress than that we have experienced thus far? One option is to wait. We can wait for generational changes in leadership; people with different views of what constitute good leadership and good management, to drive the needed transformation in management practice. But we have been waiting more than 100 years for that, and utility of SoPP seems far from being exhausted. Though, it is possible we could now be witnessing the beginnings of a generational change in leadership. However, don’t ever discount the power, determination, and effectiveness of arguments made by those who wish to prevent transformation or revert back to the status quo after transformation has been made.
A better option is to learn – rapidly. Change will begin to come about when both systems, SoPk and SoPP are recognized and understood. SoPK, TMS, and LM – the future state – are recognized and understood well-enough. What is not recognized or understood well enough is SoPP – the current state – and this lack of understanding has rendered the solutions to better management, SoPK, TMS, and LM, ineffective in producing the needed change. So, begin to understand SoPP, its scope and depth, by reading my book. The second step is to identify practical countermeasures, some of which are provided in the book, others you can think of yourself. The third step is to try the countermeasures, learn what happens, make adjustments, and try again. And keep trying. In other words, follow the PDCA cycle and don’t give up.
I conclude with the wise and memorable words of John Ruskin (Unto This Last ; capitals in original): “THERE IS NO WEALTH BUT LIFE. Life, including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal, and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others.”
That is what progressive management – SoPK, TMS, and LM – is trying help bring about. SoPP prevents that.
Since publishing my latest book, The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management (February 2018), I’ve spent the last 10 months thinking a lot about how Toyota’s management method (TMM) and Lean management are taught to people. The principal methods are via training and education. The former typically takes place in industry and consists of on-the-job training and classroom training. The latter typically takes place in higher education and is classroom- and project-based (i.e. working with local companies to improve a specific processes). These learning methods are, of course, accompanied by books, webinars, conferences, and so on.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about the effectiveness of these methods. If we face the truth, we realize that these conventional methods, training and education, have had far less impact than expected. After 30 years, Classical management remains dominant, and Progressive management (TMM, Lean, and variants) has amounted to nothing more than a niche practice by a small number of leaders who are willing to go against “the system.” While we should be thankful for their efforts to further prove the effectiveness of Progressive management, their common approach to getting other leaders to follow their lead is both uninspired and largely ineffective. We must aim higher and try new things (“trystorm”) based upon new information and the advancement of knowledge (see the reading list at the end of this blog post).
We have learned several important things, including:
Leaders don’t adopt good ideas based solely on their merit
Logical arguments for change are far less effective than imagined
Proof is only occasionally convincing
Leaders ignore that which they view as disruptive (across economic, social, political, historical, business, and philosophical dimensions)
We vastly underestimated the power of social learning among executives (which perpetuates the status quo)
We did not understand the depth and breadth of executive prerogative
This led me to think how change comes about, or not, and why the methods commonly used for influencing change has been so ineffective. So I started to think about how change could be forced, particularly under circumstances where leaders refuse to change in light of irrefutable evidence and the existence of a real need for change.
Over the last 10 months, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research focused on how change happens. Specifically, identify methods that can force change and are both within the realm of reason and achievable. The thought I had in mind as I pursued my work was whether it was possible to dismantle archaic Classical management and open the door widely for its replacement by modern progressive management. So here is the research question I pursued: If Classical management could be dismantled, how would you do it?
Early this month, I started to write up my findings, resulting in a research paper titled: “Dismantling Classical Management.” The paper examines four novel approaches to dismantling Classical management based on the following grounds:
Public health policy
Duty of care
Click here to read the paper. Comments are welcome. Please let me know what you think of it.
Lean people are quick to criticize organizations with no Lean. We occasionally call out and criticize someone else’s bad Lean – their Lean. But we almost never criticize our Lean. This is an abnormal condition: Overproduction of positive feedback about “our Lean.”
Look at social media and you will find the Lean cognoscenti congratulating each other for even the most insignificant of Lean accomplishments. The same happens at Lean conferences and similar events. A Lean bubble has been created where support for Lean must always be favorable and ebullient with homage paid to its patriarchs. Good intentions, however, are putting Lean management on the cusp of being seen as flim-flam: a confidence (con) game.
I went on to ask a series of 18 critical questions that challenged people to look at the facts, see reality, and begin to talk forthrightly about what ails Lean and the Lean movement (as distinct from Toyota’s management system). In other words, to recognize they are trapped in an ideological bubble. While we all share the same goal of advancing Lean, adherents to the ideology of Lean compromise that goal when they are unable to see and respond to the truth.
An ideology is a system of beliefs, values, and ideas that help people understand phenomena and guide their actions, and can function as a benefit or handicap, but typically both simultaneously. In Lean’s case, the ideology operated in beneficial forms for about two decades, but it has increasingly turned into a handicap. How so? An ideology functions as a handicap when it:
Ignores the concerns of those who might have interest in the ideology
Is dismissive of real-world impacts (or lack of impact)
Defines approved sources of information and practice
Takes an all-or-nothing position regarding support for the ideology
Leads to internecine disputes
But more than that, ideology generates strong confirmation biases which filter out information (or people) that critically questions the ideology. At its worst, ideologies:
Ignore complexities that exist in the real-world
Make adherents overconfident in their knowledge and solutions to problems
Suppress skepticism and criticism
Shun dialog, compromise, and learning
Institutionalize dogma and lazy thinking and analysis
The result is a stale intellectual environment that cuts off doubt, inquiry, and dialogue — and therefore blocks needed progress. Theories and idealized conceptions overtake and derail empiricism because it becomes more important to sustain the ideology than it is to make adjustments in response to obvious realities and verifiable facts. The open and inquisitive mind, so much required for the effective practice of Lean, is surprisingly missing from the people whom you would expect to have it most.
Anyone who has closely followed my work can clearly see an evolution in my understanding of Lean management and how it interacts with the real world. I have sought to understand, across multiple dimensions and in minute detail, why real-world outcomes are so often misaligned with the prescribed ideology of Lean management. The negative response, particularly from the American Lean movement, reflects the current dysfunction of the ideology as shown in the lists above.
So where do we go from here? The people who cut off doubt, inquiry, and dialogue are unlikely to change. For them, stasis is the better alternative than changing one’s position and engaging the truth. Or, they will quietly move on to something new and leave Lean behind. So be it. But, I continue to press forward to expand my understanding of the minute details that have inhibited the advancement of Lean management. It’s a grand and challenging problem to work on.
Just look at the great progress made so far: My recent book, The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management (February 2018), covers the economic, social, political, and historical factors that cause leaders to reject Lean management in whole or part. The blog posts listed below, written after Triumph of Classical Management was published, cover the business and philosophical factors (denoted by an asterisk), as well as other important related factors.
What would happen if Lean thinking was applied to American football?
American football is in trouble. The league Commissioner and team owners know there must be changes made to the game to assure a future pipeline of skilled players and to grow its fan base for generations to come. But League officials and team owners are unsure of what to do and cannot agree on what changes to make. So, to help them think “out of the box,” the Commissioner hires a Lean consultant to appraise their situation and recommend changes to implement.
A cursory analysis by the Lean consultant reveals the following:
The league and its teams are suffering a steady decline in customer interest, which will soon lead to reduced revenues and profits
There are only 900 seconds of actual playing time and 9900 seconds of wait time
There is one head coach, 15 to 20 assistant coaches, and a large support staff
There are many players on a team, only a few of which can advance the ball into scoring areas on the field of play
Players require expensive equipment, presumably to avoid injury
Many players are injured in each game, some seriously
Many players suffer injuries that result in a shortening their life span
Team have high medical costs, now and in perpetuity
Teams rent large airplanes to carry players and staff to distant games
Football stadiums are large and expensive to build and maintain
Football stadiums are used for less than 30 days per year
Scoring occurs three ways: Touchdowns (6 points), extra points (one point), field goals (3 points), and safetys (2 points)
The game has evolved to feature passing and therefore reduced use of running plays
Scoring is the main point of excitement, followed by passing or running plays that gain large chunks of yardage
Football fans have a near-religious fervor for the game and their team
The Lean consultant determines that the game has far too much idle time, that players are too large and strong, and that most players are not actually needed given that only a few perform that value-added work of scoring points. The following recommendations for improvement to American football are made to the Commissioner and team owners:
In Lean football, there are three players on field instead of 11. On offense, the quarterback has the combined role of center, passer, and running back. There is one blocker/running back, and one running back/receiver. On defense, there is one lineman, one middle linebacker, and one safety. There are no goal posts, and hence no need for an extra point/field goal kicker. There is no punter. There are no special teams.
Because only six players are on the field, the size of the field can be reduced from 120×53.33 yards to 65×25 yards. The scoring area on the field consists of two five-yard deep end zones (instead of 10 yards). Successfully advancing the ball into the end zone generates three points. Two-point and one-point scoring zones are added to various locations on the playing field to generate more scoring opportunities. There are two downs to advance the ball 15 yards instead of four downs to advance the ball 10 yards.
The combined weight of the offense on the field cannot exceed 650 pounds
The combined weight of the defense on the field cannot exceed 650 pounds
Helmets are banned and protective gear is limited to shin, hip, and lightweight shoulder pads (akin to what hockey players wear)
Quarters are reduced from 15 minutes to 10 minutes
53-man roster (plus 5 practice squad) is reduced to 12 players (plus 5 practice squad)
No more than 15 seconds is allowed to lapse between plays
No backflows (lateral passes)
No time out for going out of bounds
No player substitutions unless injured
Two referees are needed instead of seven.
Most of the rules of football will be changed, though some remain such as offside, hit to the head (and other player safety rules), unsportmanlike conduct, etc.
Passing yardage is calculated from position of quarterback to position of receive when catch is made (and credited to the quarterback). Any subsequent run is calculated as running yardage and credited to the receiver.
These changes would result is a faster game, a higher scoring game, and a game with fewer injuries, a future pipeline of skilled players, access to a wider pool athletes, and larger fan base. A smaller stadium, fewer assistant coaches, a smaller staff, fewer players, fewer referees, smaller airplane, less equipment, lower medical bills, etc., result in lower ticket prices. Yet these changes result in higher gross margins for team owners because 32 games can be played in a season versus only 16 games. Lower initial investment means more teams can be established in more cities across the United States — utilizing the made available from the old 53-man roster — creating exciting regional rivalries.
One or two out of the 32 owners think Lean football is a good idea, but the Commissioner and team owners hate these improvements, mainly because the status quo is upset. They say “no thank you” to the Lean consultant and bid them farewell. It turn out that all that the team owners really wanted was a better helmet and a few rule changes. That’s what they thought “thinking outside the box” meant.
These changes could not happen because the interests of all existing stakeholders – the league office, owners, players, coaches and staff, referees, fans, stadium owners, advertisers, television and cable networks, politicians, etc. — would be impinged upon in many ways that are bad for business.
In addition, the old football heroes, old playing records, and traditions would become irrelevant if Lean football were to happen. The game of football, its meaning, and its relevance to owners, players, fans, and society would be greatly diminished or lost over time.
I made this example of Lean football to dramatize the effect that Lean transformation has on the vested interests of owners and other stakeholders of any manufacturing or service business. It makes clear that the interests of business leaders (owners), workers (players), and others are greatly upset by such changes, despite the many real and potential benefits. The scope of change is too great for conservative-minded owners, and so other stakeholders are forced to go along with the owners’ decision to maintain the status quo. After all, it is not within the remit of most presidents and CEOs to make unfamiliar changes to the business that directly impact their interests.
So, continuing one’s efforts to find better ways to “sell” Lean to business leaders, or improve the many other methods used to promote Lean (books, training, conferences, etc.), are not likely to advance Lean beyond its present position as a niche management practice. That line of thinking is far too narrow and has proven itself to be of limited success. The path forward is in the development of new, breakthrough ideas.