1. Who are you, what organization are you with, and what are your
current lean-oriented activities?
I am one of the founders of Gemba Research. I do some consulting, some
writing and like many small business owners have may hand in too many
parts of the business. As one of the leaders of a global TPS consultancy
almost everything I do is lean-oriented, but how I go about doing these
things is far from lean.
2. How, when, and why did you get introduced to lean and what fueled
and fuels the passion?
In 1993 I began working as a Japanese-English interpreter for United
Technologies. They were using consultants from the Shingijutsu company.
I had no prior exposure to kaizen or manufacturing so it was a great
learning experience. What got me into this? I'm not sure passion is the
right word. Curiosity perhaps. The thinking process that allows us to
solve any problem is what interests me, as well as the reasons why
humans don't make better use of it.
3. In your opinion what is the most powerful aspect of lean?
It's science. It's practical, not axiomatic. It works. It can't fail if
you keep trying and learning.
4. In your opinion what is the most misunderstood or unrecognized
aspect of lean?
It's hard to say which aspect is the most unrecognized. I would say that
the majority of people only see the tip of the iceberg. The visible
systems and tools operating in a factory for example are supported by
systems, practices and values within supporting functions. Some of these
are being written about as "Toyota __" or "Lean __" but the lean lens
distorts things. Right now people are just trying to catalog all things
lean from end to end in the enterprise, to understand how the tools
apply to R&D, sales, etc. and what sub-systems and behaviors are
necessary to make them work. But for the most part all of these systems
already exit in practice within companies today, or have within the last
50 years. We're rediscovering what we've lost. So the most important
question that we're not asking might be "Why did we forget so much about
lean, and how can we prevent it from happening again?"
5. In your opinion what is the biggest opportunity for lean in
today's world? How can that be accomplished?
What I call "Lean Not Manufacturing". Helping people apply these
principles and ways of thinking to the more than 80% of the world
economy that is not manufacturing. The trick will be to do this without
losing too much in the translation. A lot of people, even those
convicted of lean in manufacturing, don't truly believe that it applies
just as well to the creative process or to work dealing only with
information. The two poles at the moment are an attempt at rigid
application of manufacturing style kaizen and lean, which usually causes
backlash, or loosing it up too much compromising a lot, allowing a lot
of non-essential things to get in under the lean umbrella, reducing its
effectiveness. It would be a lot easier if we could stop calling it lean
and understand that it's all about serving others, developing people,
and solving problems.