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Interesting Discussion Lean Manufacturing Concepts - Is 'Lean' hype?

Is 'Lean' hype?

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Bev D

Heretical Statistician
Staff member
Super Moderator
Kevin - I suspect that you are close to the truth. Womack and colleagues got some things right but misunderstood others. Toyota was notoriously close lipped especially in the early days of US curiosity. a lot had to be inferred from observations. and Ohno was even more dense and obtuse in his conversations than Deming. this was confounded by the lack of direct translation form Japanese to English. My experience has also been that some things that were deemed to be 'nationalistically' unsavory to Americans were altered to make them more palatable.

Kevin Mader

One of THE Original Covers!
Staff member
Hi Bev - you bring up an interesting thought regarding the timing of when Womack was in the midst of doing 'lean' and when he wrote Lean Thinking. Culture was (and still is) an obstacle to clear lines of communication. I'm sure you're right that it added to the tension. But I don't think it was all of it...or necessarily the largest part of it.

Hi Andy - True enough, but some additional background. In speaking with Womack about the time of the recession in the 90's, he was advising his followers/practitioners to pull back equipment and activities that had been outsourced to keep the business intact (with little disregard for the supplier). I felt this was horrible advice. I wondered: would Ohno/Deming have offered this advice? I believe they would not have (convinced in the case of Deming). Womack's version of Lean is suboptimal in the sense it supports maximization of some system components thus lacking a true view of a System. The music isn't just not as's a different tune.
I would call it a hype because you use lean for anything nowadays, not just business. Even minimalism another buzz word is a type of lean approach to life! :)


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I enjoy looking over some of these older posts. I wonder if anyone has changed their minds after some real life experience? I helped a company implement a lean system and his comment was that he knew they needed to do it and when the economy went down the benefits were really obvious. I have seen people piece meal or modify it and wonder why it did not give a better result. you never really know the circumstance behind a companies motive for implementation of any system!


Quite Involved in Discussions
I would call it a hype because you use lean for anything nowadays, not just business. Even minimalism another buzz word is a type of lean approach to life! :)
Yeah, so it is like it means everything and nothing!
Though that is not specific for Lean, it is a general challenge with language for popular words/concepts.


Quite Involved in Discussions
The problem with your response is 'Lean" as a term has been around for over 20 years. Note that this discussion was started in 2003. As I and others in this discussion have pointed out over the many years, 'lean' is no more than a title used for a collection of old but useful tools - The tools themselves are part of the 'fundamentals of quality'.

As an additional thought: Using the tools included in 'lean' does not preclude the use of TQM 'tools' and/or Deming's methods. Combining them just makes a bigger box of 'tools' from which to choose ones which are appropriate for a given scenario.
So can we even agree what it is, before we answer what we think of it, lol? The more we discuss it becomes more and more difficult to explain what it is for new people, I dont know anymore. Is there an official agreed definition today? Is there any reason to be loyal to the original work, or can we just redefine as we want - who owns it? Is it a protected word?

So there are two debates, one is about what it is (or should have been), and the other is what we think of it. So when they are all mixed up in this thread it becomes a mess, but interesting, lol :)
Today when I think about lean I think about in Socrates, in moderation, in having just enough for what needed in any aspects of life and work.

I've always admired the concept since I studied Toyota's TPS, but know as a more mature person I see Lean everywhere! Almost like metaphysic!! :D
Hey guys and gals, I need some help here! The company I work for is in need of change. More than half of the work force has been here for greater than 10 years. Although that produces some very good things, it also creates some negatives. One of those is the introduction of new concepts. The last "lean consultant" I had in here to offer ideas on where we should start left looking like :confused: . Can anyone share with me the success stories witnessed at your locations? Also, anything you did to help sell the ideas to upper management, then to the rest of the staff.

I have argued that it was easier to implement Lean before everybody thought they understood Lean. "Cookie cutter" lean "experts" are all over the place predominantly with a high volume low mix or automotive framework. I had a new division president who hired lean consultants and surprised me one Monday morning. I has a couple successful transformations under my belt at the time. The consultant asked one of my cell operators what a two week supply of an item looked like and the poor guy was dumbfounded and looked to me. The consultant snapped at him "don't be looking at him, how many do you use in two weeks?" The answer, we hadn't had a demand for that particular option for over two years and now we needed 50 of this 26 week lead time item and we only had about five on hand. High mix low irregular volume, a completely different world. That doesn't mean Lean won't work, it just works differently than in high volume low mix environments. I had to coach the consultant and teach him how to save face but he ran off instead of adapt and learn.

Where I have seen success is where minds are open and nobody jumps to the action stages without proper analysis. The first question I ask is who needs to be sold, management, hourly employees or mid level? Often upper management masks skepticism because they can't say no to a corporate mandate. They'll wear the T shirts and drink from the coffer cups but deep down they thinks it's just the flavor of the month. In my mind the first step is to crawl into upper managements head to assess the validity of their commitment.
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