Lean Is Not Absolute

Lean Is Not Absolute

Different doesn’t mean Bad

One of the things that I have always found intriguing about the Lean community is that there seems to be an endless amount of interpretations regarding the best way to go about implementing and practicing Lean.  Of course, it’s not surprising that some of them appear to be conflicting, but the good thing is that I’ve never meant a Lean practitioner with intentions of malice.  I will admit though, I used to feel a bit self-conscious when I would voice my belief, only to be met with opposition from a respected colleague.  At first I was worried my interpretation of lean was inadequate, but I eventually learned that it’s ridiculous to expect something like Lean to fit a common mold that everyone sees exactly the same way.  I also realized that by vocalizing my interpretation, I would spark interesting dialogue that I may have never experienced had I not.


Toyota, themselves have been encouraging us for years to stop referring to TPS as the Toyota Production System, but rather the Thinking Production System.  That’s clearly because it is a non-rigid, fluid, continuously improving concept that by definition should not and cannot have only one correct way.   For years, Taiichi Ohno was encouraged to write a book about the TPS system that he is mostly credited with founding, but he resisted for a long time because he was afraid the world would take his written word as “the authority” and not continue to improve on it.  He did end up publishing some good material, including one of my favorite books:  “Beyond Large Scale Production”.

I often find myself beginning a sentence using phrases such as, “Lean is all about…..” or “The best place to start with Lean is…..“.   Sometimes I find myself placing a high level of importance on the cultural aspect of Lean, sometimes the philosophical side steals the show, many times I see the techniques that we implement on the shop floor to be an appropriate window into the Lean classroom .    I also have changed my mind on some of my beliefs over the years.  That’s just part of the personal development journey.  It’s OK to be wrong, as long as we learn.

The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.

Theodore Roosevelt

Growth from Different Views yin-yang-symbol_21101200

So for the most part, no matter how I’m viewing Lean at the moment, I know that there are others that will see things differently and the future me will possibly even view things differently.  Should I worry that someone is right and someone is wrong?  Absolutely NOT!  There is an endless supply of unique scenarios and it’s not surprising that there are different “right” ways to apply lean.  Listen to what others have learned, but make your own path.  It is just part of the amazing design of Lean, a Thinking Production System.  So whether you are an experience Lean Sensei or a brand new student, please communicate your point of view because the community needs it to continue to improve.

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  1. Steve Jackson
    November 02, 2014 09:09 Reply

    True dat! Very well put. I have had many conversations with other engineers and the conversation normally is better when there are competing ideas. Every situation is different and can be approached in different ways to get to the final achievable goal (hopefully).
    Since most people have different skill sets and experiences it takes a team to bounce ideas off of each other to attain buy in and acceptance from the memebers involved. Each idea has merit and can bring the team to a better idea.
    Go team!

  2. November 02, 2014 20:19 Reply

    With all due respect, many times different does mean bad. Accepting differences when there is proven practical science that guides performance might make everyone feel good, but it will lead to mediocre or poor performance. There are specific laws governing the relationships between inventory, capacity, response time and variability. Managers who do not understand these relationships (and far too many don’t) end up trying things because it seems like a good idea. One piece flow is a perfect example. Managers focus on reducing cycle time and don’t realize that it is costing them throughput. I very often see companies with great one piece flow set ups but poor customer service and they can’t understand why. See the following for an excerpt from “Factory Physics for Managers” (McGrawHill, 2014; New York, New York) and more info: http://bit.ly/1tRn6sm

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