Harry Truman once said, “The only things worth learning are the things you learn after you know it all.” – a very wise observation. So what are we to make of manufacturing accounting people who know little about lean manufacturing, nothing about lean accounting, and little interest in learning about either of them?
You might want to read this mundane accounting document, called Accounting Research Bulletin 43 issued by the Finacial Accounting Standards Board. If you drop down to Chapter 4, page 11 you can read a lot of language that sounds a lot like exactly the same stuff you probably heard in accounting 101 classes. It discusses “the general principles appicable to the pricing of inventories of mercantile and manufacturing enterprises.” The basis for standard costs and all of the accounting practices preventing companies from shortening cycle times and becoming lean.
It was issued in 1953 – but is actually just cleaning up some of the details in Accounting Research Bulletin 29 issued in 1947 – during the Truman administration. 1947 – the year Jackie Robinson made it to the big leagues; stamps cost 3 cents, drive in movies were invented and Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah made it into the top ten on the music charts.
Inevitably, when August rolls around and the Lean Accounting Summit looms, I get emails and phone calls from frustrated manufacturing people who are desperate for a way to get their accountants on board with the lean effort. They hope that, somehow, I have a magic formula for getting through to people who have not lifted a finger to learn anything more about their chosen profession since the day they walked off of a college campus.
I hate to disappoint, but I cannot begin to fathom such minds. It seems to me that everyone has a fundamental moral and ethical obligation to their employer to keep up with that which they are supposed to provide expertise; and at the very least degreed, intelligent people should have a trace of curiosity, but for so many in the accounting trade this is not the case.
The accountants who block their employers from achieving success because of a conviction that they already know it all and have nothing to learn beyond that which they learned in school and can find codified in dusty, old tomes from the Truman addministration seem beyond salvation. One has to wonder why any of them are paid more than basic, entry level wages given that they can all be replaced overnight with another accountant who knows ARB 47 inside and out and has not contributed a single original thought to the business – they are available by the legions and more are being cranked out from colleges every day.
After explaining, cajoling, berating, begging and pressuring for ten years I am out of ideas. Perhaps if everyone whistles Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah whenever the cost accountants come into the room they might get the message …but probably not. Folks who think 1947 thinking is cutting edge probably think Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah is a pretty hip tune.