1. Who are you, what organization are you with, and what are your current lean-oriented activities?
My name is Dan Markovitz. I run a consulting company called TimeBack Management. We apply lean principles and concepts to individual workflow, so that people are more efficient, more productive, and waste less time and energy.
2. How, when, and why did you get introduced to lean and what fueled and fuels the passion?
My first exposure to lean was reading "The Machine That Changed the World" in 1992 in business school. It's the only book from grad school that I remember anything about. (For that matter, it's the only book from grad school that I've kept.) What struck me the most was the respect for people aspect of lean: yes, the business results were pretty cool, but it was treating employees like humans that hit home. What keeps me going now is the opportunity to free people from the burden of their own inefficiencies, and enable them to spend more time and energy on the stuff that's really important to them. I'm not smart enough to do the really tough stuff they do (like surgery, or chip design, or material engineering). But I can help them do more of it by showing them how they can use lean ideas to improve their own work.
3. In your opinion what is the most powerful aspect of lean?
I think the most powerful aspect of lean is the idea that there's always room for improvement. It leads to a culture of constant growth and constant challenge. And it fosters a vital feeling of autonomy and self-determination that brings out the best in people.
4. In your opinion what is the most misunderstood or unrecognized aspect of lean?
This strikes to the heart of what Mark Graban (www.leanblog.org) calls LAME. For me, it's the unfortunate rhyme of "lean" and "mean." It's so sad when companies justify layoffs or poor treatment of suppliers/vendors/partners by claiming (to the press and Wall Street) that they're implementing "lean." Why is it so hard to remember that "respect for people" is one of the pillars of the Toyota Way?
5. In your opinion what is the biggest opportunity for lean in today's world? How can that be accomplished?
Well, I'm biased here, of course. I'm staggered by the sheer waste of time, effort, and energy in they way people work. I don't mean the business *process* (e.g., the invoicing process, or the product development process). I mean the way that individuals work *within* that process. Talk to most non-factory workers, and they'll bemoan the squandered time in pointless meetings, the effort wasted handling worthless email, or the inability to get 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to actually think. They'll say that if they could only be left alone to do their jobs, they could really accomplish something. And yet, very few companies are at the point yet where they say, "Hey, there's waste here! If we apply lean thinking and lean tools, we could reduce some of that waste and get more done."
Nathan Zeldes, a principal engineer at Intel, said that due to what he calls "Infomania" (the flood of information coming at knowledge workers and the need to keep up with it), employees are not creating new ideas to the extent they could:
"The engineer who could have the “Aha!” insight leading to the next major product innovation is trying to find 30 minutes to think about it, and failing. The supervisor who could double a fabrication line’s efficiency can’t because they are nearly brain dead from staying up until one AM working on e–mail. Across the industry, knowledge workers and managers are thinking less, inventing less, producing less, succeeding less."
The application of lean tools to the way we work can help stop this problem and eliminate this waste of untapped human potential.