Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!

barney picMy three children are well beyond the Barney years. It's been about 10 years since I was subjected to that song, but unfortunately it is burned into my brain, "Everyone is special, special. Everyone is special..." Of course, I don't disagree with that sentiment, just the inane song. However, when it comes to lean implementation, people seem to sing that very song, just with different words.

We've seen lean adoption successfully expand across a number of different industries, resistance slowly receding as new frontiers were explored and barriers breached. First (in very broad terms) lean was a Toyota thing, then it was perceived as something for the automotive industry (who hasn't heard the plaintive cry from someone resisting lean that goes something like, "we aren't making cars here!"), then a manufacturing thing, then lean started making inroads within transactional businesses, now health care, etc., etc.  Just the other day, I was reviewing a lean health care case study for a company that does a lot in the lab and manufacturing operations (long story). At the conclusion of the review a manufacturing engineer noted that lean seems to work in health care, but was skeptical as to whether it worked in manufacturing. Doh!!

There are mounds of empirical evidence that lean works and can work in virtually any value stream. The expectation is not that everyone has to be a carbon copy of Toyota or anyone else for that matter. It's pretty much impossible and probably is not the most effective path. Companies are different (special) from the perspective of culture, strategic imperatives, value streams, etc. BUT lean principles are lean principles. They apply to everyone.

The Shingo Prize's Transformation Model for Operational Excellence identifies, among other things, 10 basic principles. These principles transcend the lean tools and systems (the "know how") and represent the "know why" of lean transformation. A deeper understanding of the principles, according the Shingo Prize model, "...empower[s] the organization to develop and deploy specific methodologies and practices unique to the organization." Unique means "special" in Barney language.

Here are the 10 Shingo Prize model principles within four "dimensions." I encourage you to go to the Shingo Prize website and read through the model. If you can't agree that the principles apply to your business, well...you're not going to successfully implement lean in a meaningful way.

  • Cultural Enablers - 1. respect for the individual, 2. humility
  • Continuous Process Improvement - 3. flow/pull, 4. process focus, 5. scientific thinking, 6. integration of improvement with work, 7. seek perfection
  • Consistent Lean Enterprise Culture - 8. systemic thinking, 9. constancy of purpose
  • Business Results - 10. create value

So, the question shouldn't be whether lean will work in your corner of the world. It can. The question should be more about how are you going to best apply lean tools and systems within the context of (satisfying) the principles.

What do you think?

There are 4 Comments

Jerry Foster's picture

Very good key points! How many times, as consultants or otherwise, have we heard the "we are different" speech? This is usually from two perspectives. The uninformed, which concern me less than the unwilling. The uniformed simply need to be understood and shown "the way". The unwilling will be unwilling when they are closing the doors of the operation/business, regardless of organizational type.

The uniformed and willing will usually work to adapt upon understanding and knowing the power of the process. The unwilling normally are so invested in the current process that the extended future of the organization is low on the priority list.

Nothing gratifies me more than walking away from a viable organization that has embraced the work when they were once on the brink of failure.

May we all find the curious and willing.


markrhamel's picture

Hi Jerry,

Thanks for your comment. Yes, sometimes it sounds like a broken record. In fact, the default position for most folks seems to be, "but, we're different..." Many finally come around and you're right, that is very gratifying. Unfortunately, many don't and find (temporary) security in their self-imposed barrier to change. The principle of humility suggests the need for an open mind, while the principle of respect for the individual behooves us to aggressively seek continuous improvement in order to best secure the future of the company and the future of employment (stability).

Best regards,

Roy Waterhouse's picture

Great post. Many times I think companies view lean as a set of tools to improve performance and reduce error - which they are. But then they don't follow through on the respect for people part of the equation. I believe lean can work but only when the respect for people part of the equation is there.

markrhamel's picture

Hi Roy,

Thanks for the comment! I agree. People seem to overlook the principles and get lost in the systems and tools. The foundational principles are respect for the individual and humility. Absent these two, there is not much to build upon, especially in the long-term.

Best regards,