NEWSFLASH: The Lean that we all grew up with came to us completely wrong. Messengers Jones and Womack not only mislabeled it, but misinterpreted it too. In their roles as observer-reporters, they described what they saw through the old management paradigm and pretty much interpreted and documented everything from that perspective. They did that really well and Lean Thinking became the “go-to manual” as a result. But it wasn’t the right thing, so they pretty much missed the engine of Toyota’s management system.

The result? 30+ years of misfires from nearly all corners of the earth, as leaders and consultants took what Jones and Womack observed and tried to implement it. And it wasn’t just their book that perpetuated the wrong thing – Shingijutsu, the consulting company documented in Lean Thinking, continued to train using kaizen blitzes that reinforced the use of tools and the fast cost-cutting  results.

And as is usually the case in our innovative world, many iterations and derivatives sprang up, like Lean Six Sigma, Operational Excellence, and a host of other “programs.” In the absence of successful long term implementations, people naturally tried to fill the holes that were causing these poor results. But here’s the real issue:

None of these iterations is even on the same logical level as the shift that Lean represents.

It’s also why Lean wasn’t successful in those 30+ years – it was applied on the wrong logical level, which didn’t yield any change at the top. Old school management, where command and control in various intensities is the norm, uses an aberrant version of “lean as cost cutter,” Lean Six Sigma and Operational Excellence, at a lesser logical level than what Lean really represents. They use them at the skill and behavior levels, thinking they can deploy these activities to get results without changing their own thinking. So wrong model (Lean Thinking) plus wrong logical level equals wrong results, and in this case 30+ years of failure.

Enter Lean 2.0: Right model plus right logical level AND an implementation methodology created by actual doers, not observer-reporters. The right model means an accurate description of the thinking behind Toyota, and the engine they use to drive that thinking. In this case, Steve Spear and Mike Rother, two modeling experts, have skillfully documented both. And the right logical level? That would be the IDENTITY and BELIEF level. Lean 2.0 isn’t the tools at all – tools that require skills and aim to change behaviors. No, Lean 2.0 is the brain and the lever working in unison to insure . . . (to be cont’d in Part II)

At the Lean Expert Academy, we specialize in elegant Lean implementations that are highly effective, and best of all, are extremely easy because we focus on minimal learnable actions. If you want more information on implementing Lean in a smooth, Leadership driven way that focuses on getting the right culture in place quickly, be sure to check out my course here.


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About Jim

I am the founder of the Lean Expert Academy and a previous partner in the Lean Leadership Institute with Jeff Liker (The Toyota Way), Paul Akers (2 Second Lean) and Norm Bodek (Productivity Press Founder). We train Lean consultants to implement the exact same methodology and techniques that you can learn here. I will be releasing my first book, Lean 2.0: How to Dominate Your Industry Using Lea(R)n Thinking very soon.

I believe the days of suboptimal results of command & control management models will be replaced within this decade, and you are a driver in that transition. I believe that we are at the tipping point of a new era, an era where everything that has the name “management” attached to it, will be done with Lean thinking and Lean management.

I know for a fact, after years of being deep in the trenches of making change happen, that implementing Lean is not that hard to do. It’s actually quite easy if you follow the right steps, and my course shows you exactly how to achieve that outcome.

My goal and mission is to produce as many excellent Lean thinking leaders as possible – to arm you with the ability to recreate what I and my team of consultants have been doing consistently for many years. If you are serious about seeing Lean spread more quickly, please join me.

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  1. Dan 3 years ago

    I bought the first 30 copies of Mike Rother’s book “Toyota Kata” while I was in a Lean leadership role at Delta Faucet Co. and distributed it to our top leaders. And Shingijutsu was not a bad enterprise. Delta has had great Lean results and the company I currently work for is in the early stages of a strong Lean transformation.

    • LeanSchumi 3 years ago

      Dan, thanks for your comments. Mike Rother is one of the modelers I cited in the article, and he did an outstanding job of modeling the right things. And Dan, I never said Shingijutsu was bad – Iwata, Nakao et.al. were and are nothing short of brilliant and should be lauded as world heroes. But they chose how they would introduce and implement Lean and my article states that they did so at a behavior and skills oriented level. And that is not incorrect. They chose to implement in the form of weekly kaizens because they were batching their visits from Japan – a 30+ hour flight. That US managers interpreted what they wanted to out of Shingijutsu’s teachings, comes back down to my original statement. I am responsible for my communication regardless of my intent.

      As for your success at Delta Faucet and other places, firstly congratulations. You are obviously a continuous learner and as such have taken advantage of the tremendous amount of knowledge that we have gleaned over the last few years. Most of the very few successes that occurred in the past have been what I would call “intuitive accidents” and what I am suggesting is that regardless of previous missteps, we now know what to do and we know how to get there consistently. Remember that Lean implementation is less about the content and more about the change.

      In the end, as an implementer you are a change agent first and foremost. My materials are aimed at Lean change agents who want a repeatable process for architecting that Lean change in an elegant manner.

  2. Nikolas 3 years ago

    Agree with Dan; the cultural or people-related element of LEAN was repeatedly mentioned in ‘THE TOYOTA WAY’, ‘TOYOTA CULTURE’ and many other sources. With all due respect, the way you criticise the work of Womack and Jones is unprecedented and astonishing; it deviates from one of the TOYOTA principles, i.e. “humility” and “respect for people” and is also not accurate; personally, I have read this brilliant book (“the Machine that changed the world”) and with the assistance of a Sensei I successfully applied its practices in a large organisation with spectacular results. In addition, I would expect you to invite Womack and Jones to respond to your critique and include their response in your post. Your message is really important and useful for anybody who wants to start a lean journey: there is no need to offend other renowned practitioners (indeed, pioneers) to get it across.

    • LeanSchumi 3 years ago

      Nikolas, thanks for your interpretation of my article and for the kudos. I too think Womack and Jones wrote two excellent books and I view them as an important step in the world’s move to dragging us out of the dark ages of management. All I said in the article is that they shone the light on the wrong thing. And while I did not mention any of Jeff Liker’s books, with whom I am a partner in the Lean Leadership Institute, neither Jones nor Womack were involved in those two books.

      Both of them are still active and welcome to comment on anything I’ve written. I don’t think I’ve been too harsh on them, nor do I think they are that thin-skinned. They’ve pretty much said the same things about themselves that I say in the article, in various interviews.

  3. Bill Gaw 3 years ago

    Nikolas, Dan, Anonymous are you blind to the facts that at present the majority of lean transformation initiatives have failed to meet expectations. And, that the primary cause of failure is lack of leadership from the top. Maybe you missed Jim’s message or you haven’t followed his crusade to address that problem. I just hope you’re jumping out front with such criticism doesn’t turn off the CXO’s that could benefit from his teaching and coaching.

  4. LeanSchumi 3 years ago

    Anonymous, you don’t need to follow me. My materials are aimed at Lean change agents who want a repeatable process for architecting Lean change in an elegant manner. Whether you call yourself a Lean expert or not is irrelevant. The real expertise you need to implement Lean consistently well, is how to change individuals and organizations out of the command & control management they’ve grown up with their entire lives, to this new way of managing that is light years ahead of everything else.

  5. Blair H 3 years ago

    I think you are on the right track, but in my opinion you’re being pretty hard on Jones and Womack, when it may not necessarily be entirely their responsibility that Lean hasn’t reached its full potential in the US. I’m a firm believer in that what gets measured gets improved, and business in the US tends to value profits more than any other measure of success, so it’s natural for our business leaders to look to using Lean as a means to increase profitability through mis-implementation. Lean can be used to improve profits, however, if that is your primary goal, even the best presented characteristics of the Lean process and program can be misused. I’m led to believe that in Japan the culture and the business culture view long term results as equally or more important that this quarter’s profit margins and RoE, which may be why Lean works well for Japanese companies where it hasn’t as much for US ones. Typically the folks tasked with implementing Lean in a US organization aren’t able to exert much influence on the top management, and thus we have poorly implemented and languishing versions of Lean. IMHO, it can be fairly difficult to implement Lean properly in a US organization when one of the biggest concerns is what Wall St. will think of the next quarter’s results.

  6. Michel Baudin 3 years ago

    I agree with your assessment, but I am not so sure about the remedy.

    About Womack and Jones, I would say that they authored one good book: “The Machine That Changed The World,” and leave it at that. To them, manufacturing was a spectator sport, and they shared the results of a worldwide benchmarking study of the auto industry. I met Jim Womack at Honda’s Anna Engine Plant in 1999, where I was helping a team of engineers on the design of a new motorcycle engine assembly line. We then had lunch together with our common host, Kevin Hop, and he was forthright about his limitations. It’s other people’s response to his writings and speeches that changed him from a reporter to a thought leader, and ushered in what you describe.

    20 years ago, I started using the “Lean” label as a company- and industry-neutral alternative to “TPS,” allowing other car manufacturers to embrace it without referencing a competitor, and companies in other industries not to appear to borrow from car making. Today, it has come to mean a set of simplistic, half-baked ideas with a record of implementation failure.

    You are suggesting doubling-down and going for “Lean 2.0.” In principle, anything 2.0 comes after the success of the first version. There are exceptions, particularly in manufacturing, where a string of versions from MRP to ERP have been sold to successive generations of managers without any having been successful. What about using a new label?

  7. Anonymous 3 years ago

    Unfortunately when Lean thinking was extracted from the Toyota Production system it lost some of the original simplicity and two key features. —
    The main performance goals for TPS are to give the customer;
    What they want. (The best P, S, and E available in your industry. Products, services and experiences).
    In the quantity they want, without defects. (Any multiple of one. One piece flow facilitates this capability. Jidoka and Poka- yoke will ensure zero defects). –
    Delivered when they want it. (Just in time to suit their needs. Takt time is the driver). —
    These values must also be improving faster than those of any existing or future competitor. —
    There are three main activity goal areas in TPS to achieve this. They are called the 3 R’s. Only the first one is used as a central theme in Lean Thinking.
    The first ‘R’ is Resources.
    The goal in this area is to achieve the three performance goals using the minimum ‘Resources’ (i.e. materials – machinery – methods – movement – minutes – manpower – money). Anything above the minimum resources required to produce the product, service and experience that will delight the customer is defined as waste, and is a target for removal. This is one the main areas of focus for TPS and lean activities – Waste elimination. What cannot be removed should then be seen as a target to be continuously improved. The first rule in this area is; remove it before you try to improve it—

    The second ‘R’ has been largely missed by the lean movement. This is Resourcefulness.
    The goal in this area is to release the ‘Resourcefulness’ (talent, creativity and enthusiasm) of all our people to achieve the first three goals. This ability must also drive the waste elimination and continuous improvement process throughout your organisation and down through your supply chain. A key rule in this area is; sustain the gains, maintain the change.
    The third ‘R’ is ‘Respect’. From my own experience we must see ‘RESPECT’ as the password that gives access to the file that contains our people’s total ability (talent, creativity and enthusiasm). Without the correct code, access will not be possible. This is one of the key bonding elements between managers and their people. This style can be called TLC, Tender Loving Care. Too many managers show TDC for their people, Thinly Disguised contempt. The key rule in this area is; Star managers make their people shine. —
    One of the most enlightening comments I have heard on the ‘Toyota Respect for people’ subject came from a manager at their Burnaston plant. He explained that; “The respect we have for our people means that we must FILL their days with valuable work”. . Respect should not be seen as a ‘soft-side’ subject. A lot is given and a lot is expected in return. —
    Anyone who understands TPS will tell you the second and third R’s are central to its success. They are missing from too many lean programmes and are the reason for many of their failures.
    When you apply this thinking not only to your external and internal customer contact areas, but also down your supply chain, you will start to understand where and how Toyota’s amazing performance and competitive advantage are created. —

    Two quotations to clarify and confirm our thinking. — “Of course what is important is not the system, but the creativity of human beings”. Taiichi Ohno. —
    When trying to understand lean and TPS, or anything else, we should always remember Pavlov’s words. “Don’t be a collector of facts. Try to penetrate to the secrets of their occurrence, persistently search for the laws that govern them”. –

  8. Sid Joynson 3 years ago

    The comments above

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