Art Smalley just walked into my house and told me I don’t know what Christmas is all about. Can you imagine the nerve of this guy? I got 3,000 blinking colored lights outside, a twelve foot tall inflated Santa Claus and singing snowmen on the lawn, and eight electric reindeer dancing on my roof. There is an eight foot tall plastic spruce tree in my living room with another 1,000 flashing lights, mistletoe hanging everywhere, dozens of Christmas cookies and candy canes all over the place and every credit card I have is maxed out. No place looks more like Christmas than my house – and I have all of the Christmas spirit that money can buy – and now comes this guy Smalley trying to tell me that none of it matters – that Christmas is really about something else.
He didn’t really do that, but he might as well have.
Yesterday I gave everyone a ‘heads up’ about Art Smalley’s article, TPS vs. Lean and the Law of Unintended Consequences, urging the whole lean community to read it. I called it a ‘seminal event’ in the ‘leaning’ of American manufacturing. I take that back. Most lean experts will not want to read this article. It will just ruin their day, and who needs that? I had a boss once who had a sign on his desk that said, "There is nothing more tragic than to see your beautiful theory murdered by a gang of brutal facts". Through his article, Art is raining exactly that sort of tragedy down on the lean community, and who needs tragedy? … especially on a Sunday and at the onset of the holidays?
The Grinch, that’s what Smalley is. Here we are, with Lean all figured out; we have the whole thing organized into workbooks and rules; we can audit plants and give them precise ‘leanness grades’; we have certificates and prizes that denote exactly who is lean and who is not; then along comes Smalley and tries to upset the whole thing … And the guy is so heartless he chooses the Christmas season to do it!
Sure, Smalley worked for Toyota in Japan for ten years and learned Lean through years of Toyota training and experience, and yeah, the brutal facts he cites came from his recent first hand observations in the Toyota engine plant in West Virginia, but that doesn’t mean we have to listen him does it? His article says stuff like, "For starters, the [Toyota] plant staff includes no dedicated change agents or black belts; there were no value stream maps posted anywhere, nor were there value stream managers; no small U-shaped work cells; only a small portion of the plant contained actual standardized work charts; and many of the daily tracking systems were highly computerized." He has to be kidding, right?
Lean without Black Belts??? Smalley might as well be suggesting Christmas without Santa Claus. He’s sneakin’ into the house and trying to take all of the U-Shaped Cells and Value Stream Maps from under the Christmas tree! In their place, he wants to leave hard work! He says we have wriggled off the hook for the critical responsibility of thinking for ourselves, and now he comes along a week before the holiday, takes away all of our Lean toys, and puts us back on the hook.
We need to send Smalley and Grinches like him back into the caves they came from. If it looks like Christmas, then I must have the spirit, and if my factory looks Lean, then I must be Lean. I don’t care what Smalley says. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time for him. It’s Sunday morning and I have more Christmas lights to put up, then tomorrow I have more Value Stream Maps to do.