Bob Emiliani is a professor of Lean management at Central Connecticut State University. He is an author of 17 books and 47 research papers based on his deep researches in the fields of leadership and management. Prior to his academic career, Dr. Emiliani has 15 years of industry experience and he is more than passionate about Lean management.
These discs are “visual controls.” They remind people that if their Lean efforts are not living up to expectations, then they are trapped in BAU (Business as Usual) and the status quo, and must regain their focus on kaizen.
A hallmark of classical management, rooted in batch-and-queue material and information processing, is the existence of a perpetual state of confusion. That is not a good state to be in. People cannot think clearly when they are confused, and so when confronted with problems they rely on long-established habits and reflexes for their response. This is what we see from managers at all levels, supervisor to CEO. They have automatic or habitual responses to both problems and opportunities. I’d like to focus here on reflexive responses to problems, which often border on instinctive reactions.
For example, when something goes wrong in classical management, the habitual managerial response is to blame someone for the problem. If a person proactively points out problems, time and again, the habitual managerial response is to treat such persons as outcasts. In these two common examples, bosses do not think, they react. It is a no-thinking reflex that they have seen others do, so they do it too, and the reflex comes to be seen as natural, right, and proper. Not thinking is not natural, right, or proper.
Manager’s habits are not acquired through reasoning, but through social learning. Managers learn from other managers. You see the same phenomenon in kaizen when you ask someone “Why do you do it that way?” Their answer is “I don’t know” or “We have always done it that way.” So the way people do things at work is usually not the result of reasoning — critical thinking and problem-solving. Tradition is not subjected to critical thinking and problem-solving. When one does that, they are either forced to conform to tradition or they are made to suffer socially (or worse). This, among other things, makes business inherently conservative and thus unwilling to change. The replication of managers habits and reflexes from one generation to the next assure that everyone suffers.
Habits are the default problem-solving method, invariably as problems are seen at the surface and not at the root, and these habits become difficult to replace with better problem-solving methods — the ones that illuminate cause-and-effect. If, by chance, traditional habits are replaced by better problem-solving methods, they quickly become diluted, purposefully or not, such that they support the existing pre-existing habits and traditions. Under such circumstances, organizations will never come close to achieving the important goal of Lean transformation.
Yet, one’s reputation as a leader is usually established by being good at applying old habits and traditions. So when business problems arise, that’s what managers rely on. One such old habit is emulation — “keeping up with the Joneses”). “Doing Lean” is emulation; it raises the status of the company and its leaders regardless of any actual accomplishments — for example, no culture change, no material and information flow, no Just-in-Time. Joining the Lean bandwagon is reputable; a mark of competent leadership for which one can take and get credit for.
Business logic says that if the critical thinking and problem-solving methods that expose root causes do not produce a money value, then it is no good — and certainly no better than traditional management habits and reflexes to problems. Furthermore, if property is insecure, as it is in the United States where businesses are subject to leveraged buyouts, mergers, etc., then business logic says that it does not make sense to invest much time, labor, and money for gains that one may never see or which may fall into the hands of rivals. Hence, “doing Lean,” emulating other organizations, is good enough. Lean transformation is unnecessary and excessive. Perpetual confusion (waste) is symbiotic with the status quo, business as usual, and long-established habits and reflexes.
Business logic dictates how Lean management is used. There has never been any restriction on how executives should understand and use Lean management. As a result, Lean was incorporated with the existing framework of business logic, habits of thought, and traditions. There have been some exceptions, but they are rare because few leaders have volunteered to make the transition from habits and reflexes to reasoning. And in doing so, they made the transition from perpetual confusion to calmness and order. But to do that, they had to upset the status quo, abandon business as usual, and aggressively pursue “change for the better.”
Think of these words in relation to business and the workplace:
“Virtually all thoughtful persons… will agree that it is a despicably inhuman thing for the current generation willfully to make the way of life harder for the next generation…” Thorstein Veblen, 1914
If you observe carefully, you will notice that the people with the best problem-solving skills tend to have poor social skills, while those with the best social skills tend to be poor problem-solvers. The former are curious and go deep into their analysis of a problem to understand its root causes and identify solutions that result in tangible and verifiable improvement. Analysis by the latter is superficial and results in band-aid solutions. Band-aid solutions give the appearance that problems have been solved, and so band-aids are merely political solutions to problems, not an actual solution based on the true source of problems. Band-aid solutions maintains the status quo; they do not result in fundamental improvements to products or processes.
You will also notice that those who are able to create the best band-aid solutions to problems invariably rise to high levels within an organization. To senior leaders, band-aids are as good, if not better, than actually solving the problem, because the status the quo and good appearances are highly valued symbols of expert leadership. The really good problem-solvers — the reformers — remain stuck at lower levels of the organizations where they must fight against the band-aid solution specialists to win favor for their thorough analyses and concordant solutions. And they usually lose.
Because of their deficits in social skills, the best problem-solvers tend to be organizational misfits (detached disturbers of the corporate peace) and are treated as outcasts. Their career path is usually limited; such is the reward for being a good critical thinker — someone who is able to discern the facts and reveal the truth. The band-aid problem-solvers easily fit in, are recognized as “team players” or “key players,” and are treated as favorites within the organization. The favorites, largely indifferent to facts or the truth, quickly rise and are amply rewarded for their limited skill set. It is no surprise that the key requirement for joining an executive team or board of directors is good “good chemistry” — having the requisite social skills. Problem-solving skills are assumed to be “a given” and therefore unimportant to the overall task of corporate supervision.
I have spoken to many business leaders over the years in my job as a university professor. When asked what they are looking for in our graduates, they almost always comment on the need for them to have better soft skills. Rarely do they say students need better critical thinking and problem-solving skills. That makes some sense because, to greater or lesser extents, students have been taught to think critically and problem-solve since elementary school — about 14 years’ worth of education.
The inverse relationship between soft social skills and the critical thinking necessary to be an excellent problem-solver leads to big expensive problems. Business leaders who desire social skills are, knowingly or not, asking for employees to weaken, if not cripple, their critical thinking and problem-solving skills and develop into band-aid problem-solvers. This perfectly fits the needs of business: fast, easy solutions to problems that consume few resources and which require little actual change in thinking and doing. All you have to do is think of the disastrous Boeing 737 Max development program, Wells Fargo’s culture of fraud, Equifax’s data breach, General Electric’s stunning downfall, the Morandi bridge failure, BP oil well explosion, and defective Takata airbags. These are just a few examples illustrating the ubiquity of band-aid problem-solving in business and their catastrophic consequences.
Business is nothing if not a daily flood of problems. Problem that are solved with band-aids invariably recur and perpetually cost the company its resources — all the while the CEO proclaims the need for sparing and judicious use of company resources. Deep problem-solving exposes the truth so that improvement can be made. But if band-aid solutions are the preferred type of solution to business problems, to keep up appearances and maintain the status quo, then the truth is only rarely revealed and problems continue to linger. And when senior leaders finally do decide they want employees to be better problems-solvers, the top of the organization is weighed down band-aid problem-solvers who refuse to learn or practice deep problem-solving. So there are no executive role models for employees to learn from.
This explains why Lean transformation efforts regularly result in the appearance of improvement but fail to achieve material and information flow and Just-in-Time. Occasionally, someone is good at both social skills and problems-solving. But, they are usually not great at either. To achieve flow, you need people who are better at problem-solving than social skills. That means the truth-telling misfits can no longer be treated as outcasts. Yet, treating the problems-solvers as misfits and outcasts has long been institutionalized and is a habit that leaders rarely break.
The further spread of Lean management depends to a large degree on elevating the problem-solving iconoclasts in the organization and intensely training the band-aid solution specialists to become actual problem-solvers. We know from experience that both are difficult to do. So perhaps a solution is for business leaders is to not emphasize the need for soft skills. Instead, the capabilities of new hires and current employees should be tilted towards critical thinking and problem-solving skills because that is what business, given its daily flood of problems, needs most. The perpetual question is this: Can senior leaders welcome the disturbing truth that comes from independent thinkers?
Who doesn’t admire Art Byrne, Orry Fiume, and and the others members of the Wiremold senior management team? I’ve known Art and Orry for many years and continue to be captivated by their accomplishments. The Wiremold Company’s transformation remains a classic blueprint for success. Since retiring from Wiremold in the early 2000s, Art and Orry have actively promoted Lean management at conferences, in books, articles, webcasts, etc. They have been very generous with their time in educating others. Their credentials are impressive, having learned TPS from the best kaizen consultants, Shingijutsu. And, of course, we are thankful for the CEOs who have learned from them because life is surely better for employees and all other stakeholders.
What I say below about their work is merely representative of what many other people do to advance Lean management, and which I believe to be largely ineffective. Efforts to promote Lean management are stuck in the past (Phase 1); these methods made sense decades ago, but not any longer. Furthermore, efforts to promote Lean are hampered by preconceptions about the intended audience that limit effectiveness.
you need to persuade your senior team that converting to lean is essential and will lead to dramatic results
share specific examples of the types of success that other companies have had as a result of converting to lean
continue to make clear that lean is strategic and not just a bunch of tools that can be used to cut costs
be sure to explain that lean requires teamwork to be successful
take your senior team to visit some companies that are well down the lean path so that your people can see how different a lean operation looks from what you do now
when you get back, get your team together and create a value stream structure that is very different from your current functional approach.
make sure your senior team members are on a lot of kaizens each year
All of that is technically true. It is advice that Art has given for more than 20 years. Yet, we see few Lean transformations where companies have achieved just-in-time (flow of material and information). Instead, what we see is pervasive use of Lean tools to achieve some localized improvements that don’t do much for the bottom line or for people development. My conclusion is that Art’s advice, while sound, has not done much to change things. Its ineffectiveness is the result of preconceptions such as (my comments in italics):
Talking to one’s direct reports, sharing examples, seeing examples first-hand suggest that resistance to Lean is an intellectual problem. — Thus, it does not address social, political, or emotional aspects that would contribute to acceptance of Lean.
Participation in kaizen generates the aha! moment that will make leaders capitulate to Lean. — There is lots of evidence to the contrary.
“people who succeeded over the years by applying and believing in all the traditional management approaches” will resist Lean. — Practicing and believing in traditional management approaches” is not the singular barrier to Lean acceptance.
“[Lean] is the best way to run any business” — After more than 30 years of intense efforts to promote Lean, few CEOs see it that way.
“This will allow you to gain market share and grow.” — There are lots of ways to gain market share and grow without Lean.
This advice is an example, one of many, that has failed to evolve in light of the facts. My comment to Art on his post was:
“Art, with respect, this is the hackneyed advice that has been proven over decades to have very little impact. The good news is that this consistently unfavorable outcome clearly informs us that the problem is more complicated than is commonly understood, and that we must look elsewhere for answers — work that I have undertaken over the last several years. In particular, there are deep-rooted economic, social, political, historical, business, and philosophical factors that generate strong executive resistance to Lean management. I have articulated these, in detail, in my recent writings, and the findings point the way to many other ideas and methods to experiment with in order to gain acceptance for Lean management among executives. We all share the same goal of advancing Lean, but to do that we must now move on and vigorously apply “trystorming” to very important this problem.”
“When trying to convince your CEO and CFO that lean is the best growth strategy, explain how each element of ROI is improved by lean. Then it should be clear that lean is the best way to achieve dramatic increases in ROI.”
This is advice that Orry has given for more than 20 years. And will say it once again: We still see few Lean transformations where companies have achieved just-in-time (flow of material and information). As with Art’s advice, Orry’s advice has not done much to change things. Its ineffectiveness is the result of preconceptions such as (my comments in italics):
Business is about making money. — Money is certainly important, but, surprisingly, several other things are as pertinent to CEOs interests.
CEOs are logical thinkers and can be convinced via logical technical arguments. — CEOs business logic (de jure) differs markedly from technical logic (de facto).
CEOs listen to lower level people or other CEOs. — Maybe, maybe not. It depends if they hear what they want to hear.
The facts suggest a pressing need to evolve the promotion of Lean via rapid cycles of experimentation. But one need not do so blindly. Trial-and-error can be improved by recognizing the existence of new evidence that comprehensively explains why these approaches to promoting Lean have been largely ineffective. As I said in my book, The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management, the adoption of Lean management by CEOs is not a technical or intellectual problem. It is a political problem. That is just one of dozens of new pieces of information in my book that can help move the promotion of Lean forward into Phase 2.
“A real irony is that ‘respect for people’ requires that people feel the pain of critical feedback.” — Akio Toyoda
Yes, that’s me; the Bad Boy of Lean. For those of you who don’t already know, I have a bad reputation. I tend towards the negative (I’m an engineer, details matter) and I freely challenge the work of others regardless of their standing (I’m adventurous). I earned these blemishes by doing five simple things: Thinking, asking questions, identifying problems, studying problems, and sometimes discovering innovative solutions.
If you only know me from social media — which is a bad way to know someone — you could easily conclude that I am an asshole because of my criticism of Lean (all I’m doing is pulling the andon cord). But at the same time, I have a great love for TPS and Lean and have been a passionate advocate for 25 years. My doing both confuses people. Is it necessary? Yes. Why do it? It’s called being “woke” — aware of problems in the construction and execution of Lean — and, as a Gemini, the twins are curious about different but complementary problems — Lean success and Lean failure.
If I had a good reputation I would constantly worry about my status. And then, having status, I would spend a lot of time and effort to improve my status, as others invariably do. That would distract me from doing important work that virtually nobody else does. Having a bad reputation is a blessing because it enables me to do the work that needs to be done. I own it, totally.
My work in getting to the truth and advancing knowledge is not for everyone. Some people appreciate that I speak truth to power, challenge the status quo, and point out the facts of a situation (example). Others don’t like it, but they learn a lot from my work and it changes their thinking and actions. Then there are the Lean influencers (the big names in Lean world), who, almost unanimously, dislike me — a lot — for pulling the andon cord when needed. Hate is probably the better word. Rather than be woke, it’s clear that they would rather I be slept.
I don’t care about my bad reputation (which, believe it or not, has useful benefits*). What I do care about is my students, Lean practitioners, and others whose desire it is to learn and improve. I care that the information that they get is accurate and that they have a clear understanding of reality so that the actions they take to improve are not futile.
Respect for people can manifest itself in unexpected ways.
“They laugh at me because I’m different. I laugh at them because they’re all the same.” — Kurt Cobain
* Benefits include freedom; peace and solitude; the ability to think, concentrate, and develop new ideas; cost savings; time for family, exercise, ice hockey, art, music, cooking, and gardening, etc. Life is not all about reputation and status, which is anti-Lean anyway.
Let me say at the outset that one does not do the kind of work I do — teaching and research — in the hope of receiving awards. Further, at this point in my career, I don’t care about awards and have nothing to gain from them. As an outsider, what is most important to me is to do incisive research on both Lean success and failed Lean transformations, as these two lines of inquiry complement one another. The reasons why classical management is so hard to displace is undiscoverable if one studies only success, as is nearly always the case.
The purpose of the Shingo Institute is to sustain the legacy of Mr. Shigeo Shingo and to promote and reward operational excellence. As we all know, the human and organizational transformation necessary for OpEx, TPS, Lean, etc., is very difficult to achieve. And success, when it is achieved, has proven to be ephemeral for most organizations. These are the two most pressing problems of our time. The Triumph of Classical Management lifts the veil on what is actually happening so that people have the facts in-hand and can identify countermeasures to try. It destroys the preconception that the key to success with OpEx, TPS, or Lean is changing leaders’ behaviors, and it breaks with the status quo by not conforming to the established lines of inquiry — both of which are essential for unlearning past knowledge and habits. Without this new information, people will continue to struggle and progress will remain limited.
I recognized that conducting this experiment could be odd in two ways. If the Shingo Institute were to award my book, then they would be officially confirming the existence of a huge problem. It would call attention to a work that could have the (unintended) effect of driving people away from OpEx, TPS, Lean, etc. Rejecting the book would help assure that it remains unknown to some people who want to better understand Lean’s existential problem and find new solutions to try, thereby diminishing its positive impact. Given the Shingo Institute’s mission to promote operational excellence (the governing preconception), they would most likely award only those books that are unambiguously consistent with its mission to promote.
According to the Shingo Institute web site: “This award recognizes and promotes writing that has had a significant impact and advances the body of knowledge regarding operational excellence. The Shingo Institute is most interested in recognizing thought leadership.” In a strange way, and in the big picture, no book has had a significant impact, because CEOs, by a wide margin, remain committed to classical management. The same goes for nearly every business school, from top-tier to bottom-tier, the business press, government, economists, and lots of other people and institutions. It is true that the body of knowledge has been advanced significantly, but its skilled application in practice remains lacking in most organizations due to the crippling effects of classical management. And yes, there has been much thought leadership, but it has remained principally within the small OpEX, TPS, and Lean bubbles.
Any organization that is created to promote something is loath to praise something that conflicts with its mission — that is the status quo condition, the vested interest — is to promote while even if the information is relevant for achieving success. Is the Shingo Institute different? Should it be different? I cannot say for certain if my test produced a positive result on this point. But there exists an enduring sentiment throughout the Lean and allied communities that greatly favors success stories while minimizing or ignoring difficulties and failures, as well as their causes. So, the outcome could be ironic; ironic in the sense that an organization dedicated to promoting progress might prefer to not recognize useful new ideas and new information.
If you are interested, you can read the Shingo Institute’s feedback and final decision letter with my comments added (.pdf file).
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.
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. But as the image at right shows, the dependence of cost on volume weakens greatly under conditions of flow.
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 choices 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 these machines — make sure they possess the human touch — 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 a superstition. 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 they 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 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.
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, 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 confront many uncomfortable facts. And you will see 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 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 exist 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 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” in anything other than a superficial way. Perhaps they judged the problem too difficult or a waste of their time. In contrast I saw it as a wonderfully challenging problem that must be carefully studied no matter how long it takes. 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 management. 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.