The Dramatic Spread of Lean Thinking

Topic: Management Improvement and Economics

The Dramatic Spread of Lean Thinking [the broken link was removed] by Jim Womack:

Currently we are experiencing an explosion of interest in applying lean thinking to practically every process in every corner of the world. And it is causing all of us in the Lean Community to think about how we can best serve the needs we are hearing about.

I am delighted with the spread of lean thinking far beyond the factory and far beyond the high-wage economies to every corner of the world and to every value-creating activity. My greatest concern is that we bring the best methods to bear and create the maximum amount of knowledge exchange across the global Lean Community so these initiatives will all succeed. Life will be better for all of us if they do.

Life indeed will be better for all of us with the improvement of management. The benefits of economic success are large. Good jobs are desired everywhere: USA, India, Germany, Singapore… Those jobs provide positive externalities that create a reinforcing loop of improving conditions.

There are many important factors (education, investment, political stability, rule of law…) to economic success. Effective management is among the factors that can provide dramatic increases in the standard of living of a country or community. As Jim Womack states:

I’m always amazed that my friends in high-wage countries seem to think that workers in low-wage countries will be happy to continue forever making cheap products for first-world consumers at low wages. In fact, like all of us, they want to sell products to high-wage countries at steadily rising wages, so they can become high-wage countries too

I also find this trait odd. I think it is because those in high wage countries think living in a society with a large percentage of high wage jobs is their birthright. They do not seem to realize you can go back just to the grandparents of their friends and colleagues and find a society where most jobs were low wage jobs.

I think the prospects for economic success for several generations hence is good. But it will require a better performance as a society (management must improve, in addition to the health care system, education…). The mobility of capital, ideas and people means that if countries do not adopt highly successful methods they are in much greater danger of being outdone by others.

There is not only risk but also great opportunity. To take advantage of the opportunity, participants must have the ability to offer others something of value. I believe this opportunity is indeed great. My vision for myself is to assist those who want to improve management in order to participate in the opportunities that will be available to those who have value to offer the world.

However, there is a real risk for any country that fails to take the challenge seriously that they will be passed by. The United States of America has many advantages that give us a much easier path to success than others. However, those advantages are likely to shrink going forward and the importance of making the most of all opportunities (through ideas such as: lean thinking, Deming, systems thinking, effective use of data, innovation…) is increasingly important.

I realize this big picture view might seem a bit overly dramatic to some. The value of Deming’s ideas, lean thinking, management improvement… are not dependent on this big picture view. However, it is a significant part of why I care about management improvement. Yes management improvement should help us be more successful at work. But effective management can indeed “advance commerce, prosperity and peace.” [I updated link to more relevant page on the site]

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