(This is the fourth installment from a speech given at SMC Business Councils a few weeks ago. You can see the previous installments by clicking this SMC Speech tag. The result will give you all the posts.)
Around the time when Womack was publishing the first version of Lean Thinking, the seminal Toyota plant in North America, the one they built in Georgetown, Kentucky was celebrating its tenth anniversary. Some of its earliest leaders were moving on to different and new seasons and careers. Some of those early leaders went on to show organizations how to implement the Toyota Production System. Some even went on to teach and coach organizations how the system’s human side connected all the components. They began to teach and implement the things you couldn’t see through external observation of the Toyota system.
The advent of these former-Toyota practitioners caused a ripple in the fabric of the “lean” universe. While Womack was rapidly rising to fame and on his coattails a bevy of consultants and trainers claiming to know how to implement lean, these former Toyota leaders quietly began to create substantial and lasting change in their own and in other’s organizations.
The result, fifteen years later, is a set of three distinct pathways. The first, the Womack pathway, was marked by the attention to value and waste and eliminating that waste. The second, what I will call the TSSC Pathway (so named for the Toyota Supplier Support Center), was marked by rapid improvement to process through the implementation of a set of tools designed to get a pull system moving.
As an aside, the TSSC was an part of Toyota that “reached back” into its supplier base to make improvements to process. The goal was to get suppliers to produce “just in time” to the Georgetown, then other, assembly lines. The “carrot” for making the improvement was the chance to do business with Toyota and in the process, the ability to cut some cost from your process. If you take that model out of its framework, removing the impetus, it doesn’t always work. In fact, Jeffrey Liker documents its successes and failures in his game-changing book, The Toyota Way. Many consultants followed this pathway because of its neat and tidy business case: do a project, make an improvement, impress the heck out of the client, get another project, repeat the cycle. Unfortunately, clients who really wanted long-term change became disillusioned with this method because of its lack of ability to get sustained results.
The third pathway, what I’ve coined as “the Georgetown Pathway”, is one that gets sustained, tangible results, albeit with some hard work, real change and passionate leadership. This pathway has signposts established by names that are not-so-recognizable. Some thought leaders on this path have emerged on the scene and have become known to a small circle of learners and doers. For example, David Meier has co-authored two books with Toyota observer and researcher Jeffrey Liker. In both books, David demonstrates a deep understanding of the Toyota Way and the system. He also understands that it is a living thing and that it is fraught with paradox: standardization enhances innovation and others. Another prime example is Mike Hoseus, who also co-authored a book with Jeffrey Liker. Mike’s book, Toyota Culture, captures the essence of the human side of the system.
The Georgetown Pathway is marked with a few key principles: human and operational balance, mutual trust and respect, community…wait, those don’t sound like lean tools, do they?