In this issue of 5 Questions we meet Peter Abilla, who many of you probably follow over at shmula.
1. Who are you, what organization are you with, and what are your current lean-oriented activities?
I'm Pete Abilla and you can read more about me here.
2. How, when, and why did you get introduced to lean and what fueled and fuels the passion?
In graduate school, I focused on Operations Research — Queueing Theory was my thing. I spent a lot of time in Hospitals, Airports, Warehouses, Amusement Parks, etc., studying the physics and psychology of lines.
Then, I spent time at Toyota's Supply Parts Distribution business — a business that received core and non-core parts in its warehouse, then this network of warehouses replenished the car manufacturing plants.
I learned Lean on the plant floor from hourly associates who taught me that my big and fancy degree wasn't really worth the paper it was printed on. I was humbled, but I learned. That was my first initiation to the Toyota Production System and I have been a student ever since.
3. In your opinion what is the most powerful aspect of lean?
Lean is seductively simple. Most people miss the mark, thinking it is more than what it is; but the power is in its simplicity and incredible practicality.
4. In your opinion what is the most misunderstood or unrecognized aspect of lean?
I believe the most misunderstood aspect of Lean is an over-focus on the tools used in Lean. Large consulting houses and a "lean subculture" has developed, mostly focused on the tools used in Lean — this is both sad and misguided. The principles remain, but the tools are just that — tools.
For example, Kanban exists because there isn't anything better or simpler. But when something is developed that enables flow, pull, low inventory requirements, and allows for better visual management, then that will become the new tool. But, the principles remain; tools change.
Another example: I sometimes see job postings for "Value Stream Manager" — when I first saw this, I had to laugh. What in the world is that? At Toyota, the phrase "value stream" doesn't exist. The tool is called "information and material flow analysis" and that tool was popularized as "value stream" by Womack and company — but, it is a tool used for a very specific purpose. Creating a full-time position of "Value Stream Manager" is something I consider an act with good intentions, but one that is a little bit misguided.
Another aspect I find troubling is that an over-focus on tools can sometimes lead to an under-focus on people. In fact, that's what I've seen it that behavior runs counter to Lean Thinking.
5. In your opinion what is the biggest opportunity for lean in today's world? How can that be accomplished?
Seeing old business problems with fresh, new, eyes is greatly understated. Lean can impact how one views the world, and then a different behavior follows. That, in itself, can have a very large impact on society, business, and the world.