Author, Editor, Owner – Bill Gilbert
Linkedin Profile – www.linkedin.com/in/wgilbert
My first, hands on, exposure to Just-in-Time (JIT)/Toyota Production System (TPS)/Lean (I learned it in that order) was in the late 1980’s while I was a divisional Vice President for a large company. After I experienced the power of TPS first hand, I never let go and eventually led TPS transformations at four different companies (large, medium and small), all while holding senior management positions.
I was initially drawn to JIT/TPS through my intense interest in creating a team-based employee environment in manufacturing. This came about when our division moved to a new location and assigned all employees to salaried positions. There were no longer any hourly positions in manufacturing at this site. This was perfect, but now what?
I had heard about JIT’s efforts to involve employees in what was then known as “Quality Circles” and I set out to investigate. I found a lot more than just “Quality Circles” and jumped in with both feet. At that time there were very few consultants and almost no academics involved with JIT/TPS (that was nice) and learning was accomplished primarily through grass-roots efforts among interested individuals and companies.
Most of what was available to me back then was derived from Norman Bodek’s Productivity, Inc. (from their excursions into Japan) and word-of-mouth from companies involved with the Shingijutsu group (I only found that out later). My primary learning was via plant site visits, Productivity, Inc. literature and AME conferences. But I learned the basics, and learned them on the shop floor, and those basics have stayed with me through the years. But I am still learning.
My primary focus throughout my Lean journey has been on “total employee involvement” (TEI). I did not hear the TPS term “respect for people” until much later. But while that was my focus, I realized early on that the TPS/Lean basics must come first. If the basics are not understood by everyone, TEI will be wasted. Forming teams and running around trying to find something to improve will just not cut it. Knowing “what” and “how” to improve must come first.
I firmly believe that this may be the primary problem with Lean today. The 70% failure rate I see published for Lean efforts just makes no sense to me. This is contrary to my experience. I think the “what” and “how” are steadily being lost as the plethora of academics and consultants take over the field. As Lean grows in scope, the basics established by TPS are being left behind. I may be wrong, but I don’t think so.
But there has been another missing piece in JIT/TPS/Lean that has been around since the beginning. Even if the “what” and “how” are well understood, the “why” Lean works has been hard to pin down.
Taiichi Ohno and his compatriots at Toyota readily admitted that their journey within TPS was a 40 year long “trial and error” effort. They would try something – and if it worked they kept it – if it did not work they discarded it and tried something else. The “why TPS works” was never fully understood – maybe partially – but certainly not fully.
After my retirement, several years ago, I began to study and do research in several interesting, but unrelated fields. These included: atmospheric thermodynamics, micro and macro-economics, complexity theory, chaos theory and systems thinking.
While I made significant progress in some fields (if you want a sleep aid, here is my peer-reviewed research paper on atmospheric thermodynamics. If you don’t want to pay for it, and I wouldn’t, go here), I just had a lot of fun with others. But as I progressed in my fun, I began to realize that a lot of the stuff I was reading could be applied to “why” Lean works. At first it was just an occasional light bulb that came on, but after a while I realized the room was starting to get brighter and brighter. Hmmm…
That is why I have started this blog – “Inside Lean: An Inquiry into ‘Why’ Lean Works”. My first inclination was to write a book on the subject. After compiling page after page of outlines, notes, references, etc., I realized that this was going to take a very long time – and then what? How would I publish it? Who would read it? Aren’t there a whole lot of Lean books already out there? Does what I am writing make any sense to anyone? Is it helpful? How will I know what makes sense and what doesn’t?
That’s when I decided to just create a website, start putting it all down, get feedback from readers and see where it takes me. So that’s what I have done. I’ve had to learn a lot of new things for an old guy: domain name and registration, hosting services, content management systems, themes, plugins, widgets (still makes me laugh), SEO, etc., etc.… But here it is! I hope to improve it over time as I learn more.
I want to encourage my readers (I hope I get some) to give me feedback in the comments sections. I am very interested in three things:
- Are my basics – basic?
- Are my new insights – new?
- Am I making Lean more or less understandable?
And also please feel free to ask questions or make comments if my writing is not clear or I make no sense or you strongly disagree or….
Thanks in advance.