What do you say we make a New Year’s resolution – all of us in the lean community – that we (especially me) spend a lot more time in 2006 looking at our own failures and weaknesses, and less at those of senior managers? I keep using the Clifford Ransom numbers – 98%+ lean failure rate – which most folks seem to think jives with our feel for the situation. The mantra we spout far too readily to explain away this debacle tends to fall collectively under the heading of senior management character flaws. Senior managers don’t understand lean and have not taken the time to learn it; they need to display ‘leadership’ and more passion; they need to start caring about their employees; they need to care more about their customers and quality. To listen to most of our suggestions, the senior manufacturing management in America consists almost exclusively of ignorant, selfish louts out to squeeze every drop of blood from the workers and cheat the customers at every turn. Michael Moore may go along with this view of our management, but those of us who work in manufacturing every day know better.
In fact, common sense dictates that all of this carrying on about senior management intellectual and character weakness is nonsense. The men and women at the top of these companies did not get there by being stupid, uncaring or unable to lead. Of course there are exceptions, but we all know that the senior managers are generally very intelligent, very hard working and very committed to success. We raise these criticisms not because the senior managers are incompetent, but because they do not see things our way. In truth, if they do not see the merit in lean manufacturing and a clear path to get there, it is because we have collectively failed to explain lean manufacturing in its entirety and a logical method for senior managers to bring it to life in their companies.
As lean consultants, proponents and advocates, we need to look at senior management as our customers. Blaming the customer for failure is not usually a very effective means of improving things.
Manufacturing (all business for that matter) is aimed first, last and everywhere in the middle at making money in the long and short term. We have done a lousy job of explaining how lean manufacturing accomplishes that end. Simply pointing to Toyota and saying they are lean and they make a lot of money is not enough to expect senior managers to leap headlong into lean. In fact, many managers such as those at Delphi, did make a leap and did many of the things we lean advocates told them to do – and failed.
The 98% failure rate is not proof of weak senior management – it is proof that the lean body of knowledge is incomplete. All of us – those who click on Superfactory and elsewhere every day to learn, and those who sign in to teach – need to step up to the glaring hole that exists somewhere in the package. My own opinion is that Lean Accounting, Lean Marketing and Sales, and Lean Management are the big unexplored frontiers that we need to get our arms around before we will be in a position to blame management for failure. But I am wide open to suggestion. What I know for sure is that far too many companies have bought exactly what we are selling and saw little or nothing at the bottom line for the problem to be senior management.
Like Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and it is us." Let’s all get to work on it in 2006.