Toyota, Lean, Consultants…

Toyota’s success pleases proponents of ‘lean’

The publicity about Toyota becoming No. 1 will create another burst of energy to lean, even though a survey by management consulting firm Bain shows that just 19% of companies that have tried it are happy with the results, says Mark Gottfredson, Bain’s head of performance improvement.

More evidence that lean works will result in interest in lean – that seems true. And then those that have an interest will be disappointed in their efforts to do what Toyota does. Yes, half hearted attempts to institute some instant pudding management improvement will fail. And many companies will make those half hearted attempts. It is sad but true. Serious attempts will also be frustrating at times and can also fail but most organizations won’t even commit to attempting serious change. Most will just look for some items from current fads to dress up how they have always managed.

That management consultants will also jump from fad to fad, without conviction, is not news. Deming called them “hacks” in the 1980’s. Bob Sutton’s excellent article calls 90% of management advice crap. Care must be taken to manage effectively. It is very easy to implement management ideas poorly. So I am not surprised when good management concepts are implemented poorly.

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Purists differentiate between lean and Six Sigma.

Come on. I understand people can combine lean and six sigma ideas. But can a non-purist look at six sigma material from 2000 and claim it is the same thing as what Toyota was doing? Yes both are about how to management more effectively. And yes both use many quality tools that are not unique. And I don’t see any reason why an organization cannot apply concepts from both lean and six sigma. But come on, saying six sigma is the same as lean is just crazy – in my opinion.

If a company is applying lean well it would be obvious that are applying lean. And the same for six sigma. You will not have a company that using six sigma as their management philosophy that is mistaken for lean, by a even semi-knowledgeable observer. And if they are actually doing both that will also be obvious. That is not to say I don’t think people can combine ideas from both but the whole reason people stuck the work lean in front of six sigma is because they saw a difference (or copied people that understood there was a difference).

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