I participated recently in the AME conference in Jacksonville, Florida; a terrific rally for manufacturing excellence with the tongue-twisting theme “Strategic Success Through People Powered Excellence.” I had a small role on a keynote panel that attempted to answer questions from attendees relating to generating the people power needed for strategic success. The session evoked a sense of déjà vu, as the challenge to get everyone actively engaged in improvement - referred to in pre-Lean times as Total Employee Involvement or TEI - has resurfaced after nearly three decades of dormancy under the heading of people powered excellence. “This is a good thing,” I thought to myself, “that the Lean transformation discussion has moved to the social part of Lean, but why has it taken so long to resurface?”
When the panel discussion concluded, I retreated to further reflection: “Maybe,” I thought, “there never was a social part of Lean, only a set of techniques to be implemented and layered over a traditional organizational structure that valued only a few “thinkers” and treated everyone else as expendable ‘doers.” Maybe this was why the focus shifted in the early ’90s from Total Employee Involvement to Some Employee Involvement: Blitz Kaizen teams and black belts and subject matter experts and value stream leaders, none of which existed in the pre-Lean era. Maybe the Total part was just too hard or too foreign, so we retreated to our caste system of thinkers and doers and glommed onto the technical part of TPS. Technical problems, after all, are always so much easier to solve than people problems.
In the late 80’s, Productivity Press (now CRC Press - then the leader in bringing TPS thinking to America) published an excellent “TEI Newsletter”, a resource that provided tremendous insight about creating the environment that we are now referring to as ‘people powered excellence.’ I have all the old issues, but there is no reference to the newsletter on the Internet; and no reference to TEI in the popular Lean Lexicon or any other glossary I researched. The acronym and what it stands for have apparently been expunged from our Lean consciousness. For those of you who'd like to revisit this prehistoric concept I recommend reading The Idea Book, authored by the Japan Human Relations Association in 1998. The book (once published by CRC Press) is now out of print, but available on Amazon for $0.01.
Digging farther into the pre-Lean period is another seminal text by William Ouchi, entitledTheory Z, a seminal dissertation penned in 1982 on creating a management system that stimulates employee engagement and loyalty. This book came to mind during my keynote panel discussion. I wondered how many of the 1500 persons in the room had ever heard of it. Theory Z is also now out of print and available on Amazon for $0.01. Ouchi’s book is largely reflective of W. Edwards Deming’s thinking, and is still very important reading.
My post-panel musings caused me to venture to the AME exhibitors area for a visit to the CRC Press booth to peruse their latest offerings. Nearly all of the display was comprised of technical how-to books: 5S, A3, 3P, kaizen events, policy deployment, value streaming for this and that, and a host of Lean-for... texts (Lean for sales, Lean for healthcare, Lean for accounting, etc.) I asked the salesperson, “Do you still publish Ohno’s and Shingo’s books? I don’t see them here.” He replied, “Yes we do, but we only bring new books to the conference.” (Shingo’s 1988 book, Non-Stock Production, is happily still in print, if not on the shelves.) As he answered, I recalled a warning from Shigeo Shingo that we should “not confuse means with ends,” for example, don’t think of 5S as an end in itself, but as a means to a higher purpose. All I saw for sale however was means type texts from latter day disciples. Apparently the works from the likes of Shingo and Ohno and Ouchi have become more like the Dead Sea scrolls: they still exist, but almost nobody reads them any more. Call them the Dead See Scrolls to disambiguate.
Don’t miss this important Shingo Institute training event, Discover Excellence. Date: January 8-9, 2014 Place: Haworth Inc., Holland, Michigan Instructor: Me For more information, visit www.gbmp.org and click on Events
BTW: This is the fourth anniversary of Old Lean Dude, a blog I started partly to promote management engagement in continuous improvement and partly as a means to blow off steam. Posting about twice per month since 2010 has, in fact, been helpful to my personal sense of well being, but I hope there has also been some value to others. Thanks to everyone who has responded to my posts. I really do appreciate your comments and observations. Keep ‘em coming. - Bruce