Misconceptions about Lean

In next week’s Business901 podcast, I have the pleasure of interviewing Natalie Sayer, the owner of I-Emerge, an Arizona-based global consultancy, and co-author of Lean For Dummies. She has traveled the world extensively, working with leaders in English and Spanish, to improve their daily lives and businesses. I asked Natalie, Your book serves an introduction to many people about Lean. You have to have a good idea what people’s misconceptions are. What are they?

Natalie Sayer:

I think the misconceptions are Lean is a tool. People try to cherry-pick tools; they’ve been doing it for years. As a matter of fact, when people first started studying Toyota, they just saw these tools. They saw the model of the Toyota production system. I’m assuming that your listeners know that Lean really came, or was a branded version or observation, by some MIT academics studying Lean saying, “Hey. What’s different with these guys? You know what, it’s like they don’t have any fat; it’s like they’re Lean.” Thus, the brand of Lean or the tag of ‘Lean’ became the way it was known.Lean for Dummies

People would just try to implement the tools but without understanding the context or the environment in which they were generated or thrive. I hear a lot of people say, “That’s just what we used to do back in the day.” That’s another misconception. While Lean did from people like Dr. Deming, helping out in the reconstruction after World War II, Taiichi Ohno and others really added to what we know as Lean; the body of work, some of the different tools. There’re inspirations that come from a lot of different places.

Another misconception that I hear is leaders think they can phone it in, if you will, or they can delegate Lean away. When you disconnect Lean from your strategy, you lose the sustainability. It becomes ‘that other thing that we don’t have time to do’, instead of ‘the way we do business, the way we think about our work’. I think those are two of the big misconceptions. The other one is as soon as you add those modifiers, “It’s not for us. That’s for those construction people. That’s for those manufacturing people. That’s for those healthcare people. It doesn’t really apply to me. In reality, as I mentioned earlier, Lean applies to anywhere that you have a process. You can apply the principles and reductions.

The other thing with Six Sigma entering into the world, I can remember when Six Sigma was a research paper that was published out of Motorola back in the late ‘80s. It was before it became an offering by consultants. It really goes back to the variation. Six Sigma as a practice, was starting to wane, and then another consultant combined some of the tools from Lean and called it Lean Six Sigma; again, missing the cultural piece and the people piece and the strategy piece.

One of the other misconceptions I hear a lot is, “Statistics? That’s for Six Sigma. Lean? That’s just for getting rid of those easy wastes.” If you truly understand Lean, you know that they’re 3 major categories of waste: Waste due to variation, waste due to overburdening, overstressing the people process and system, and the general wastes that people use or associate with Lean, known by a couple of different pneumonics. The one that we used in our book is ‘downtime’. Another one is ‘Tim Wood’ that people will use. We used downtime; we actually changed in this go around. We changed the mnemonics to include the people piece.

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