Roots of Lean

Today and tomorrow, I have the pleasure of taking part in a Lean Six Sigma summit being hosted by our corporation. One of today’s presenters was Mike Micklewright. He posed many challenging and introspective questions to our lean champions. One of his best points was that lean is not about copying Toyota and rolling out a set of cookie-cutter tools. He suggested that the roots of lean lie in three fundamental principles:

  1. Elimination of waste
  2. Focus on cashflow
  3. Respect for people

From these three principles, Toyota systematically invented the lean system that we hold in high regard today. Although the three principles are debatable, I like the point of his thinking.
He talked a bit about how American companies used to embrace TQM, then moved to Six Sigma. He mentioned that Toyota started on this journey several decades ago. It occurred to me that there is a fundamental difference between the American experience and the Toyota experience. In the Toyota experience, they learned a basic attitude from Ford, Deming, Juran, and others. With this attitude, they continuously used basic principles to invent customized solutions for unique problems. Over decades, they continuously labored to perfect and systemize their countermeasures.
In the U.S. experience, we saw TQM, QFD, Six Sigma, and Lean roll out in our corporations as systemized best practices of leading companies. These systemized “best in class” practices consist of toolsets supported by underlying principles. Is there a big difference between TQM, QFD, Six Sigma, and Lean? Personally, I don’t think so. The underlying principles all came from Ford, Deming, and Juran. The problem is each generation of “innovators” that has stamped his or her copyrighted brand onto quality has also added tools and slightly different language to help sell a new movement. Rather than build on the fundamentals (like Toyota does), we have been relearning everything over and over again. Sounds like waste to me. If only we could embrace something and commit to it for decades, we would have plenty of U.S. companies that are just like Toyota right now.
My two questions to blog readers:
1. Are there presently any U.S. companies out there with successful “home grown” quality programs built on fundamentals?
2.What do you consider to be the three or four fundamental principles of lean and quality?

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