Art Byrne’s Response to My Book Review

After writing the review of Art Byrne’s The Lean Turnaround, I sent him a copy of the review before posting the review.  That is my standard work.  Not because I want the author to have editorial rights (by the way, no one has ever asked me to change my review), but because I think it is a courtesy  to let them have a preview before it posts.

As part of my standard review, there is a section where I talk about what was missing from the book in my perspective.  Art read my review and responded.  He DID NOT ask me to change anything about the review.  In fact, he was pleased with the questions I posed.  Art  asked if he could respond to my questions and what was missing.  I said absolutely.

As a recap, here is the section from my review:

What are the weaknesses?  What’s missing?

This is a really good book, but I do see one thing missing.  Art speaks from a CEO or executive viewpoint, which is great, but what if you aren’t an executive?

One question I would like to see answered is how do lower level employees help executives want to do a lean turnaround?  Sure, one answer could be give them the book, but that probably won’t change everyone’s mind with just a single read.  How do you help an executive that seems to want to do it, do it?  Give them that final push and really start to see the benefits?

The book can also give the feeling that if you don’t have an executive leading and doing everything in the book then you might as well not go through with lean because you won’t be successful.  Art does not say that explicitly.  The book just gives that feeling.

With Art’s permission, here is his unedited response to my what’s missing from the book:

Matt, first of all let me thank you for your excellent review of my book, The Lean Turnaround. I really appreciate it and I was very happy to see that you got the main points of the book very well. You also had a couple of good questions that I would like to respond to just for clarity. Let’s take the softball question first. This wasn’t really posed as a question, but you say that I imply that if a company does not have the CEO (your term was “the executive”) leading the lean turnaround, then it might as well not start at all, since it won’t be successful. And my response is that your conclusion is correct. If the CEO won’t actively lead lean then my advice is don’t start with lean at all. That’s because you won’t get very far, and also because the entire campaign will just confuse everyone. There will be a huge gap between the things that are publicly said—and the actual commitment to lean and the actions that are taken. This has been a constant message of mine since way back in my Danaher days.

I’m going to respond now to what I believe is the basic question contained in your next comments—which, believe me, is a very good question that I get all the time in one form or another. To be more specific, I can’t remember a presentation that I have done to a national conference on lean where the first question from the audience is along the lines of “gee, that was great, but how do I get my management team to embrace lean, which I really believe is the right way to go?” This is of course a shame because it just serves to highlight the fact that most of the people attending the conference are mid-level managers or engineers who couldn’t get their senior management to attend in the first place. My answer to them is always the same. You have two choices. One, you can implement lean aggressively in the plant, division, product line or whatever you are responsible for. Go about it quietly though—you don’t want anyone above you to hear about it too early as they might try and stop you. While I was at Wiremold I introduced one of GE’s Aircraft Engine Plants to lean, and to the Japanese Consultants that I had been using (and that they are now using). At the time GE was all about Six Sigma, a very unfortunate diversion in my mind, and as a result, although they had great success with lean and became the best plant in Aircraft Engine, they were very careful to never mention the word lean and to just swear up and down that they were getting the results through Six Sigma. Once you have achieved great success and have a model line or model factory then you can show it off. Use that as leverage to get the CEO and the rest of the company to adapt it everywhere. Seeing success in your own company makes it harder for the CEO or the rest of the management team to say, “oh that lean stuff will never work here”.
Now, if this doesn’t work then your second choice is easy: quit and go work for a company that is really interested in lean. You’ll recognize this easily since the company will be aggressively pursuing it from the top down.

As to the other part of this question, “ how can I help an executive who seems to want to do it, do it?” Part of the answer here of course is exactly what I just said. In addition, I would recommend that you start by reading several key books on lean such as Lean Thinking by Jim Womack and Dan Jones, Toyota Production System by Taiichi Ohno, A Study of the Toyota Production System by Shigeo Shingo, Better Thinking, Better Results by Bob Emiliani, Real Numbers by Orry Fiume and Jean Cunningham, and Gemba Kaizen (2nd Edition) by Masaaki Imai. Then go visit some lean companies in their area, and ask to participate in their kaizens. You should also contact a high level lean consultant who teaches the Toyota approach and have them come and do a walk about in your company, and then share what they saw and what the opportunity is. Next, you should run a few kaizens in your facility (with you on the team of course) so you can start to see the opportunity and how people react; and then, and of course….take the lean leap. You can only learn by doing so at some point you have to start doing.

Thanks so much for giving me a chance to share my thoughts.

Regards, Art.

WOW!  My respect for Art grew even more with the response.  He took the questions, head on and didn’t hold any thoughts back.

What are your thoughts about Art’s response?  I am interested in hearing any feedback you have on it.

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Posted on March 7, 2013, in Culture, Leadership, Misc, Respect for People and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. At first I was offput by Art’s comment “If the CEO won’t actively lead lean then my advice is don’t start with lean at all” and then i honestly looked back at my experience and saw he is right.
    If the charge is not led from the top, Lean won’t work, at least not lastingly. It will be the first thing bypassed when crisis hits, funds get low, or the next “hot topic” comes up. Even if you are able to establish an island of Lean in your sphere of control, the island will disappear as soon as you move on, and the real goal is ingraining a culture, not putting in a temporary practice, isn’t it?

    • Chris, I had the same thoughts initially. But, Art has a great point when you reflect on it. It can be a harsh reality to admit to though, because most people don’t want to leave their company but want to pushing lean. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Hi Matt – Good piece. And I’m glad you allowed Art to reply. I’m with Art. If the senior most person in the organization (I’ll use CEO as well) isn’t driving transformation–and skilled in doing so–the organization isn’t likely going to go very far on the Lean journey. And the common problem in not having executive support is one of the key reasons why, in my opinion, Lean has gotten bastardized into something that it was never intended to be. Without support from the top, “Lean” is reduced to a mechanistic process improvement method.

    That said, there’s nothing wrong with improving processes using a new lens (reducing the 7 wastes). But many people think that’s all Lean is because that’s all they’ve been able to accomplish in their organization. (Notice I used 7 vs. 8 wastes — this is because I’ve never seen a company, including my own clients, get very far in reducing the 8th waste without significant executive involvement.

    I’m fortunate to be a very busy consultant. And 99% of the work I do is framed as “Lean.” And in all but Fortune 500 clients, if I haven’t been invited in by the CEO, I gain access to the CEO very early on to assess his/her appetite for “real” Lean. Unfortunately, much of the time, the CEO wants the results but doesn’t want to take the journey. So I’m left with a situation where I do what I can to transform as much of the company as I can or I can walk away because executive support is lacking. I choose the “some improvement is better than no improvement” path.

    The brutal truth is that, in none of the cases over all these years (19 yrs in business), can I say that even one of my clients uses Lean management to run all aspects of their business. I even have one who one a Shingo Prize after 2 yrs of work together. But, now in 2013, there’s very little evidence of Lean thinking in that organization.

    What this points out is how critical the CEO role is and few CEOs there are who want Lean badly enough to do what it takes to achieve it. It’s a reality we all need to accept. There are very few Wiremolds in the world. But that doesn’t mean we throw in the towel. It just means we adjust our expectations, be satisfied with smaller wins, and keep on fighting the battle that’s absolutely worth fighting. Customers, shareholders, and employees alike are depending on it.

    • Karen – Thanks for adding your perspective. The more times the lean community sends a consistent message the better. I really hope that one day companies will snap out of it and really change the way business is done. It is frustrating to know, see and understand all the value that could be had that companies are leaving on the table mainly because executives will not fully engage.

  1. Pingback: Is Lean Dependent on Executive Support? - Assan

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