Last week, the topic of whether Japanese culture is the cause of the lack of lean success in the U.S. came up over at NWLean, and a lot of folks weighed in with their opinions on the subject. I am more of an NWLean reader than contributor. I learn a lot from reading what so many lean manufacturing folks have to say about so many topics. But I chose to weigh in on this one after sensing a few too many people getting too caught up in Japanese culture.
I wouldn’t have given it another thought, but today I received a very gracious email from Ross Robson, the Executive Director of the Shingo Prize. He wrote,
Bill, I just read you NWLean editorial and it was excellent. It was the
most insightful blog that I have read. Every point was accurate and I
agree with all of it.
I am now more interested in seeing your new book and reading it in the
Good luck and have a great lean week!
If Ross Robson thinks it’s good, it must have something to it. While I take a shot at the Shingo Prize from time to time, there is no greater lean thinker, nor anyone more committed to lean than Ross Robson. I am flattered by his comments, and thought it would be worthwhile to share the post that drew his praise.
Here it is, as written in NWLean …
centers measured individually, driven by performance measures that
are optimized by cost center and individual volume without regard to
the impact of one cost center on another; we call inventory an asset
and institutionalize full overhead absorption that enables us to be
more profitable by overproducing and moving indirect expense to the
balance sheet; we have no visibility into overhead costs – we only
know direct labor to four decimal point precision then add 600% to
it for overhead; we don’t know what the cost of quality is; we pay
production folks based on volume and seniority; we only invest in
machines that save labor expense because we cannot put a dollar
savings on flexibility; we institutionalize MRP systems that support
all of the inventory this system creates; we have information
systems no one but finance and accounting can get changes made or
access to; our executives are compensated based on the impact they
can have on stock price in three months; and our core strategy for
improving profits is `brand management’ that will enable us to
charge higher prices without creating more value … and when it
doesn’t work we think the problem must be culture?
We manage like General Motors and wonder why we can’t get Toyota
results. Maybe we should start managing like Toyota if we want
It’s a wild idea, but how about if we quit worrying about national
culture and organizational psychology and `leadership’ (whatever the
hell that means).
How about if we reorganize the plants into value stream teams
instead of functional departments, compensate people on the basis of
skills and value stream performance incentives; convert the
accounting systems to a cash basis to get inventory out of the
balance sheet and create accountability in real time for spending;
get MRP off the shop floors; open up the information systems to
everyone; and invest in machines based on cash flow improvement?
Lean will take off when American and European management stops
blaming our failures on Japan, China, the people working on the shop
floor, the government, and everyone else we can think of; and has a Pogo
moment, realizing, "We have met the enemy – and he is us."..