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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Lean provides the “hows” to the pursuit of perfection

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, September 11, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

In our recent book, The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement, we start the book by talking about the pursuit of excellence.  We came to the realization that talking about “leaning out processes” gives a mistaken image.  It is a mechanistic view of the world that gives the impression that lean is like going through a field with a weed whacker and cutting down the weeds.  Actually that is a good analogy because if you do this to your weeds they will simply grow back, and if you go around with tools and “lean out processes” entropy will set in and the processes will revert back to their wasteful forms. The pursuit of excellence gives a completely different image, one of driving for a vision of perfection, instead of taking waste out of the current state.  When I went back and reviewed In Search of Excellence and Good to Great I found that what they were talking about is very well aligned with what we are trying to do by striving for operational excellence.

For example, Peters and Waterman criticized companies focused on the “rational model,” with a financial focus on achieving ROI.  They wrote:  “The rational model causes us to denigrate the importance of values.  The top performers create a broad and uplifting, shared culture, a coherent framework within which charged up people search for appropriate adaptations. Their ability to extract extraordinary contributions from very large numbers of people turns on the ability to create a sense of highly-valued purpose.”

To me this sounds exactly like what Toyota has been able to do through TPS and The Toyota Way.  Toyota also fits descriptions about great companies “Built to Last” from Collins.

On the other hand, as I read these books about excellent companies they do little to answer the question:   How?  Is it just getting people excited and rallying around a broad purpose?  I believe that lean provides the hows.  Problem solving, standards, visual management, reducing lead time, steadily working toward targets, job instruction training,  the hoshin kanri process all lead to how you translate all the energy of large numbers of people charged up by a common purpose to the right actions to move toward the goals of the business.

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