Here’s a headline from last week: IBM Goes Lean. Sounds interesting, and the first sentence gives us hope that another company has seen the light and realizes that lean manufacturing methods will make them competitive… even from U.S.-based factories.
IBM Corp. is relying on Toyota Motor Corp.’s tried-and-true lean manufacturing process to bolster profits and increase its global competitiveness.
Ah, but that was just the first sentence. Sentence number two:
Domestically, that means layoffs. Internationally, that means the company is setting a stage for its future.
That must be a mistake, right? A company as evolved as IBM must know what real lean is about. So let’s pick and choose a couple of additional sentences.
Lee Conrad, spokesman for Alliance@IBM: "Add to the mix that more jobs are being cut and employees see the work move to Brazil, China and India from here in Endicott, the more precarious the position it is for the company to remain viable."
IBM said the layoffs are a means of staying nimble in a world full of competitors whose balance sheets are peppered with lower-cost foreign labor.
Doesn’t sound like real lean, does it? So let’s read what their definition is. Ok, perhaps it’s just the definition of the journalist, but it supports my point so I’ll run with it.
In the last decade, the principles of "lean manufacturing" have taken the country by storm. Lean manufacturing traces its routes to Toyota and is based on the principal of removing waste in business processes to improve productivity and enhance the quality of products for customers.
Emboldened by Toyota’s success, U.S. manufacturers began finding ways to eliminate sections of its production process, focusing on more profitable products and operating more competitively and with fewer employees.
Lean may trace it’s "routes" to Toyota, but the roots extend all the way back to Ford, Consolidated Aircraft, and even the old Venice Arsenal in the 1500’s.
Once again we have a company, similar to the stories we’ve told you of Whirlpool and others, that focuses purely on the waste reduction aspect of lean. That’s LAME… Lean As Misguidedly Executed. At least that’s the polite acronym. There’s a whole other side of lean that Toyota and just a few other companies really understand: respect for people. Understanding and leveraging the value of knowledge, creativity, and experience to truly create dramatic continuous improvement. Those real lean companies realize that that value is worth far more than a few bucks an hour.
Good luck, IBM. Sounds like you’ll be following some other globetrotters. Beware of lead paint.
Pete Abilla says
I’ve worked with many IBM people in my day — and I have to say that IBM is probably one of the worst companies I’ve ever had the displeasure to interact with: the company is big, large, chubby, and poorly run. While I shouldn’t generalize, the consultants I have interacted with were underwhelming. I hope the laid-off folks will get on their feet — clearly, casualties from a poorly-run company.
Mark Graban says
I hadn’t had the chance to blog about this yet, but amen. This is just an extension of what was going on back in May.
There are defenders (they’ve popped up on my blog) that say IBM manufacturing does it right but the consulting services people have it all wrong. Either way, it’s ugly to see news articles relating Lean and layoffs together. That hurts all of us who are trying to do it right.
Mark Graban says
Here’s a job post for IBM global consulting services, implementing Lean Six Sigma…
Wonder how that lines up with how they’re applying Lean internally — just a layoffs maneuver?