Interesting lean news continues to flow from the UK, and the latest eyebrow raiser is the assertion by the folks at a company called Preactor that lean practitioners who fail to use ERP based systems are ‘Luddites". I find this to be a very curious twist of logic. The Luddites, for those whose knowledge of British history has a gap or two, were a group opposed to the industrial revolution and had no qualms about resorting to violence to prevent mechanization, especially of the weaving industry. In more modern jargon, a ‘Luddite’ refers to just about anyone opposed to change – especially advances in technology. Inasmuch as the ERP crowd in general, and outfits like Preactor in particular, are doing nothing more than pushing variations on MRP packaged in new acronyms and running on slicker computers it is a bit ironic for them to call me a Luddite. It seems to me that those advocating 45 year old solutions with such emotion that they build their marketing campaign around insults and name calling are a bit more Luddish than I am.
The emotional proponents of ERP as somehow being a critical element of excellent manufacturing see a conflict where none exists. Lean folks have never said that manufacturing should be technology free, nor have any of us asserted that every manufacturing or supply chain system is inherently bad. This idea that a titanic conflict exists between lean and the IT solutions crowd exists only in their own minds.
Not being one to shirk from a good name calling battle, however, I would suggest that the ‘Almighty Algorithm’ gang thinks an awful lot like Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor. For those readers fortunate enough to have lived a life free of the dregs of American culture, or those too young to remember the old Tim Allen sitcom, The Tool Man was a lovable but moronic guy with an obsession for power tools. Virtually every show included a sequence in which he would apply some tool to a job that went way beyond the bounds of logic, resulting in destruction on a grand scale.
The Tool Man’s problem was that he went into every effort with a bias toward the tools he could use, rather than a practical assessment of the problem and the ability to apply an appropriate solution. In this regard the mammoth IT application crowd is the same as the Tool Man. I recall one episode in which Tim Taylor installed a turbocharger in his wife’s dishwasher, with catastrophic results, of course. The scenario has a lot in common with Lego turbocharging their distribution network with ERP. Both the dishwasher and the Lego supply chain ended up blown to oblivion.
What makes the issue frustrating for the lean community is that the lean practitioners, as a rule, know a whole lot more about enterprise software than the software folks know about lean. Most of us have been there and done that and we are working within lean to find better tools. It renders serious discussion difficult, at best. The article describing me as a Luddite is built around about the most simple minded description of lean you can find. Basically lean manufacturing, according to the fellas at Preactor, is heijunka, or mixed model scheduling. That reflects about as much insight into lean as me describing enterprise systems as nothing more than big calculators.
Lean is a fundamentally different business model. Excellent shop floor practices are driven by management principles far different than those embedded in the old MRP/ERP logic. The global IT people don’t seem to get it. Insulting the lean community for refusing to embrace outdated, overblown tools doesn’t help. Only stepping back and learning what lean is really all about, then developing tools that support core lean principles will restore the credibility of the enterprise systems folks.