Lean isn’t Lean

The term Lean is a Western invention. Taiichi Ohno said that putting a label on it meant that people would assume it came in a box, that you could simply unpack what was in the box and all would be well. In fact everybody’s business is different. Deming talked about the need for method in the context of a deep understanding of how you work and what you need. He didn’t have a list of the eleventy zillion types of waste, or a set of formulae to apply. Like all good coaches he went where the problem is and used his eyes. He looked at the connections between activities and the flow.

More recently John Seddon has been commenting on what he calls the happy clappy toolheads obsession with standardisation, because it must be cheaper to have standard tasks, mustn’t it? This ignores the variety in the incoming channels, which must first be studied. Then you can standardise on the incoming flow for each channel. The flow is likely different for different parts of the organisation, and a stalinist approach will fail and cause breaks in effectiveness. The method varies for each application, the only thing you should standardise is the approach.

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