Several readers have asked for more information on some of the lean manufacturing and business transformation thought leaders that we occasionally reference. So beginning today we'll be doing a roughly weekly feature called "5 Questions" where we'll introduce you to some of them via a similar short series of questions:
- Who are you, what organization are you with, and what are some of your current lean-oriented activities?
- How, when, and why did you get introduced to lean and what fueled and continues to fuel the passion?
- In your opinion what is the most powerful aspect of lean?
- In your opinion what is the most misunderstood or unrecognized aspect of lean?
- In your opinion what is the biggest opportunity for lean in today's world? How can that be accomplished?
Yes I know that's more than five questions, but you get the picture. I've sent the questions to several people and have already received quite a few responses. So to begin the series, here's how frequent Superfactory contributor and Shingo Prize winning author Bob Emiliani responded:
My name is Bob Emiliani. I am the owner of a business established in 1998 to teach executives Lean management and how to lead a Lean business. The scope of activity is limited to training, which I always personally deliver, and I write and publish books about Lean management focused on leadership and the history of Lean. I’ve authored or co-authored seven books and over 30 papers. I am also a professor at Central Connecticut State University where I head up the Technology Management Master’s degree program and teach courses on leadership, supply chain management, and a unique course in which we formally analyze failures in leadership and decision-making using a modified A3 report format. There is no other course like it anywhere.
Currently I am continuing my research into the life and work of Frank G. Woollard, the forgotten pioneer of flow production, whose 1954 book I re-published in January 2009. I am uncovering amazing new details about his work, some of which will appear in future articles.
2. How, when, and why did you get introduced to lean and what fueled and fuels the passion?
I started by reading Masaaki Imai’s book Kaizen around 1992 when I was in engineering working on new product development. I found the book in the corporate library and thought it was interesting. Then in 1994 I became a business unit manager in manufacturing and was trained in Lean by Shingijutsu consultants. It was that experience established my passion for Lean. I left the corporate world after 12 years to teach and continue developing my research on Lean leadership. Nobody was studying Lean leadership at the time because Lean tools were consuming academics’ and practitioners’ interests – and still do, unfortunately. While there has been greater interest in leadership in the last few years, the concepts and methods that trainers use today are more than a decade behind me.
My focus since the mid-1990s has been exclusively on Lean leadership. Certain unanswered questions fueled my passion for Lean. For example, I wanted to understand why top leaders and their organizations have such limited success with Lean management and why Lean usually goes away when there is a change in leadership or ownership of a company. My studies have yielded several unique contributions, much of which is reflected in my books. My leadership training course is unlike any other in its scope of fresh ideas and new Lean concepts and practices, all of which have been validated in the real world.
3. In your opinion what is the most powerful aspect of lean?
By building on the work of others and adding their own important ideas and inventions, Toyota created a beautiful management system, one which is conceptually simple but very challenging to understand deeply and practice correctly. The reason is because there are so many subtle nuances and interconnections between Lean principles, practices, tools, and methods. These contribute greatly to making Lean work, but which few very people truly understand. That includes leading training organizations whose approach to Lean is tool-based (e.g. value stream maps, A3 reports, policy deployment, etc.), and leading companies whose executives understand Lean as nothing more than a set of tools for the manager’s tool kit. That, unfortunately, is how Lean-Sigma and other unnecessary and confusing variants of Lean management were created.
4. In your opinion what is the most misunderstood or unrecognized aspect of lean?
People do not understand that Lean management must be practiced in a non-zero-sum manner; that the intent of Lean is to improve competitiveness and grow a business without marginalizing the interests of key stakeholders: employees, suppliers, customers, investors, and communities. Marginalizing their interests undercuts teamwork which severely limits what can be achieved. Lean is not a cost-cutting program or tool to lay people off; that was never its intent, but that is how 99% of senior managers understand and practice Lean. This misunderstanding is pervasive throughout the history of progressive management since the 1880s, driven by executives’ unrelenting desire for quick gains in profitability in classic zero-sum style – certainly at the expense of employees, and usually suppliers and others as well. For this and other reasons, Lean management is very difficult to establish let alone sustain.
5. In your opinion what is the biggest opportunity for lean in today's world? How can that be accomplished?
In the history of progressive management, of which Lean is the current best example, executives have almost always focused on continuous improvement – the tools – and ignored the “Respect for People” principle (or its equivalent in earlier times). Ignoring the “Respect for People” principle comes at a great cost because people (the stakeholders) will he hurt by Lean instead of benefiting from Lean. Executives who forgo the wonderful opportunity to learn how “Continuous Improvement” and “Respect for People” are interrelated can access no more than 20% of the benefits of Lean management. They leave the other 80% behind, and also create a lot of inconsistency and confusion that is difficult to overcome.
The opportunity is clearly to learn Lean as it was intended: a non-zero-sum principle-based management system. How can that be accomplished? Through hard work, of course. Committed executives will study Lean management, participate in kaizen, and apply Lean principles and practices in the execution of their own daily activities. The secret formula for learning any craft, and Lean management is indeed a craft, is to engage the hands and mind.
We need many more examples of Lean done right, and a whole lot fewer examples of Lean done wrong. That is where I can be a big help.