The Lean Path to Follow

"Follow the yellow brick road; follow the yellow brick road."

The Wizard ofOz, 1939

It is never too late to correct a mistake. This is the greatest pearl of wisdom I have learned and lived by in 20 years of strategic management, and in nearly a quarter century of marriage (but that is another book). Since my early years as a recalcitrant, ethnocentric elementary school student rejecting the adoption of the metric system, I have learned it in order to do business throughout the world. I would expect no less of you that you read on and follow the directions. Five years from now, where will you be then?

Don't worry about roads not taken, about wrong turns, don't fret that you have come this far for something that isn't there. Just keep reading, follow the directions, and you will get there much sooner than you realize. All you need is the ability to believe in some principles that won't make you successful until everyone else is in the process.

It is significant that two of the architects of significant change in the business models, and management practices necessary to build them, Deming and Carroll, are both detail-oriented, scientific thinkers. One is the midwife of statistical process control, and the other is the first to successfully incorporate Western technology, ERP, into a lean process enabler for the production of goods and services. Yet both begin a methodology with principles that speak to the least scientific of our understandings as human beings, that is, of other human beings. Both mandate with the maddening sureness of a scientist that you must change the culture from competitive, command and fear-driven control to one that is, well, you know where this is going.

Other issues still lie in wait for you, the nascent lean champion, before you begin the digging:

1. Make this transformation a project, not a process: define it and get it done. There is very little twilight land in which to linger safely between being in a place of mass production and thinking, and being in a place of Lean Production and thinking. There is very little room to equivocate between the two.

2. Don't linger. People will pull back, slip away at night, build coalitions, and talk behind your back. You know how that goes.

3. Finally, how will you incorporate your technology into your lean processes? If book sales are an indication, a lot of people have been listening to Carroll, but very few so far are in the United States.

Think of this as a second chance to learn the metric system. It's OK.

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