My organization is going "lean" and one of the major themes I'm finding is that it is NOT about the people and NOT about relationships.  It would seem that this puts it at odds with M-T philosophy that it is all about people and relationships.  So... is there a cast for this?  Has anyone reconciled the two concepts?

I'm 8 days of training into lean.  I've got a long way to go.  But I'm beyond the 2 hour executive summary too.

In short, our people-centric small company was acquired by a process-centric mega-corporation.  Where before we employed brilliant people to do brilliant things, the method is to now take the "brilliant" out of the people and put it into a process.  The goal is to perfect the process such that anybody can perform any task in the company.  The only difference between the ideal worker of tomorrow and a robot is that the robot is more expensive... that is not an exact quote, but it is a very close paraphrase.

After a few years of drinking the M-T kool-aid... this lean stuff does not compute.  

Advice?  Anyone?

JonathanGiglio's picture
Licensee Badge

It's still about the culture. And those who get it right will win.

GM, Chrysler, and Ford have all been to Toyota factories, to learn the Toyota Way.

Were they successful? Not really.

Toyota really created and founded TQM (Total Quality Management), a precursor to Lean.

If they think they can drop Lean on an organization and magic will happen, your instructors don't truly understand Lean principles.

You might also take a look at the Agile Manifesto (or Lean for programming) -

edcrawfordlv's picture

Lean is a complex topic but it requires people to be engaged in the process.  I really enjoyed the Lean Manager series by Michael Balle.  The books are fictionalized stories about Lean implementation.  It is a fun way to explain some of the strengths and pitfalls in implementing Lean.  The newest book is specifically about implementing Lean in software company but I'd recommend starting from the first book.

Smacquarrie's picture

Lean has been very beneficial where I work.
MT and Lean/Six Sigma are not completely alien to each other.
Lean wants to make sure that you have the right tools in the right place at the right time.
By getting to know and understand your employees, you are better able to develop your team to deal with adversity quickly and with little interruption.
Lean is not a quick fix (too many think it is) but it something that you need to develop and build on.
You should start with a baseline to see where you are now and to ensure that the core team shares the same understanding.
Build it from the baseline and do NOT hesitate to beg borrow and steal what works from others.

I have brought items from four different companies and about a dozen sites within my company to the site I am at now.
Give it time and it should start to make more sense.
Slow down to go fast!!

DiSC 7121

Kevin1's picture

MT's philosophy is using people and relationships to get things done. Lean is a management philosophy that helps determine what things need to be done for the good of the business and their customers. The first is a kind of how, and the second is a kind of what. They aren't really incompatible.

Perfecting a process so that it cannot fail makes business sense as it eliminates the wastage of rework, makes the process cheaper and delivers product or service to the customer cheaper and with less delays and faults. Everyone wins.

Where lean and 6 sigma are relatively weak is that they focus on process improvement. MT is a great aide in realising the benefits of process improvement because it is all a form of change, change involes people, and MT helps us to work with people.

 (It doesn't mean that your company is not just dumbing down the process so they can use cheaper labour. They might be). Ideally, they use the time saved to add more value to their customers elsewhere, but this isn't always the case.

I hope that helps a bit.

kind regards


mattpalmer's picture

At best, you're learning "LAME" (Lean As Mistakenly Explained).  More likely, you're learning whatever someone's pet theory is, sprinkled with some Lean buzzwords because that's the current flavour of the month.

What you're describing is not Lean.  While Lean does place emphasis on defining processes for standardised work, it isn't so that "anyone can do any job" (yikes!), but it is instead so that there is a known foundation upon which to build improvements over time.  Those improvements come from the knowledge and experience of people skilled in the particular work that's being done, as they think about what could be done better in a particular process.

At the moment, you might have some brilliant people performing some job -- but they're almost certainly each applying their brilliance to how they do the job.  To the extent that they're doing things the same way, it's either because there has been ad-hoc cross-pollination of ideas, or because several different people have come up with the same brilliant idea independently (duplicating effort).  Imagine how much better everyone on that team could be if as soon as someone had a brilliant idea, everyone on the team knew about it and started incorporating that idea into how they did the work.  For a start, everyone would suddenly be more productive (multiplying the value of that person's idea), but also nobody else would have to spend time thinking about that problem, and they could instead chew over some other problem.  THAT is Lean (or one aspect of it, anyway).

I don't really have any advice, as such, except perhaps to consider taking along a copy of "Lean Thinking" and reading that in class instead of listening to the instructor... (grin)

jrb3's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

Lean's about getting things done.  One key principle is "eliminate waste".  Process-centric organizations think of this as "change the processes to eliminate waste" and continue to subconsciously insert "(and only the processes)".  People-centric organizations often have the flaw of "no processes" and thus have trouble detecting wasted effort or reliably minimizing it.

If Megacorp has the stated intent of "modify the processes until anyone can do it", well, they're abusing Lean as well as misunderstanding it.  Replace "can" with "can become able", and they're closer, but still there's enough going on in any business that some people will be better fit for certain activities (thus processes) than others.  Many accountants and programmers would wash out of warehouse and factory floor jobs, just from physical issues, for instance ....

You seem to get it -- you're trying to work out a middle way.  Processes are necessary (as your megacorp knows) but not sufficient (as your small company knows).  As I see it, the Manager Tools Trinity are wonderful processes which eliminate much of the waste around poor relationships and poor communication, by growing great relationships and great communication.

Exercise for the reader:  Support or refute:  Manager Tools *is* Lean.  :-)

Kevin1's picture


MT is definitely lean.

One principle of Lean is that before you can optimise a process, you have to standardise it.  If 10 people do something 10 different ways, it is virtually impossible to find an improvement that will makes things better for all of them.

MT offers a standard way of doing things which works 90% of the time for 90% of people.   This is definitely step 1.  Standardise.

Step 2 (and 3 and 4 and 5...) is to refine your standard process with better ways of doing parts of the process by eliminating ineffective or inefficient parts of the process that do not add value and reducing waste and redundancy.  MT have been doing this for many many years and we benefit from their gift of processes that have been refined many times over and already optimised.

AND we get to jump the intervening trial and error process improvement exercises and go straight to the well refined versions.

Yes, that's lean.