Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Early "Lean" Thinking

"There are some who criticize the 'early days' of the Lean movement as being too focused on tools. But, I’ve re-read a lot of the early material and this is not the case." - Mark Graban

Exactly right. It seems to me it was when the first "lean manufacturing" fad wave hit and you had lots of people (that didn't study and learn what it was really about) quickly churn out their oversimplified "lean manufacturing" cookbook tool approach. That is when the tool approach took off and because it is easy to train people on tools that has always been a popular way to sell services to companies. It is really just putting new tools into the existing management system instead of adopting new management thinking which is what the people that actually studied "lean" were doing and talking about. The tools can be helpful but it is a very limited approach to "lean" (if you can even call it that - really it should be called using a couple of lean manufacturing management tools). The initial people who studied Toyota, and other companies in Japan (mainly), understood it was a different way to manage - not just using a couple of tools.

But it was hard to figure out how to actually do it (getting management to improve is hard - it is easy to sell management some training that will "make workers better"). It was easy to offer training in setting up QC circles and how to use various tools, so much of that happened. The biggest change in the selling lean training is you no longer see people selling QC circle training, they now sell other tools.

Here are some early reports (so early it preceded the lean terms widespread use). It also means the focus hasn't already been set by the Machine that Changed the World but it is the same stuff that those that studied in 1980, 1990, 2000 or 2013 saw - it is more about respect for people and using everyone's brain than any specific tool. And these articles have a bit more focus on using statistics and data than much of lean literature today (partially because George Box and Dad were statisticians and partially, in my opinion, because current lean literature is light on using data).

Peter Scholtes report on first trip to Japan, 1986

Managing Our Way to Economic Success: Two Untapped Resources - potential information and employee creativity by William G. Hunter, 1986

How to Apply Japanese Company-Wide Quality Control in Other Countries by Kaoru Ishikawa. (November 1986).

Eliminating Complexity from Work: Improving Productivity by Enhancing Quality by F. Timothy Fuller, 1986

On Quality Practice in Japan by George Box, Raghu Kackar, Vijay Nair, Madhav Phadke, Anne Shoemaker, and C.F. Jeff Wu. (December 1987).

The early lean stuff was much like what is discussed there (though these were before the "lean" term had taken hold). These were all first published as reports at the University of Wisconsin - Madison Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement founded by my father and George Box.

While the format of the documents may be a bit annoying thankfully they are actually available, unlike so many articles supposedly meant to stimulate better management practices (look at major "associations" that don't even make articles available online without a blocking paywall preventing the articles from doing much good).

Related: Management Improvement History (2004 post) - Early History Of Management Improvement Online (2007) - Transforming With Lean (2007) "Successful management improvement is not about mindlessly applying quality/lean tools." - "The tools are very helpful but the change in mindset is critical. Without the change in the way business is viewed the tools may be able to help but often can prove of limited value." (2006) - Lean Thinking and Management (2006) - From lean tools to lean management by Jim Womack, 2006 - I would link to the original article but it is gone :-(