/Womack and Jones: the fathers of lean thinking interviewed
priolo interview jones womack

Womack and Jones: the fathers of lean thinking interviewed

priolo interview jones womack

VIDEO INTERVIEW – At last month’s UK Lean Summit, we sat down with Dan Jones and Jim Womack, founding fathers of lean thinking, to discuss the evolution, current state and future of the methodology.


Interviewees: Dan Jones, Lean Enterprise Academy; Jim Womack, Lean Enterprise Institute

Interviewer: Roberto Priolo, Editor, Planet Lean



PREFER TO READ?

CLICK ON ANY OF THE QUESTIONS BELOW TO READ DAN OR JIM’S ANSWERS

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– Can we have a comment from both of you, almost 25 years after the publication of The Machine that Changed the World, on how far the lean movement has gone?

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Dan Jones: In one sense, we won the war – every major corporation has a lean program in place. In another sense, we have only scratched the surface, in that not many of those companies are really developing the capabilities of their people. We have a long way to go before people behave the way Toyota does.

Jim Womack: We have succeeded in creating a whole new set of functions, and everybody has got one of those. Many thought that lean could be delegated and outsourced, but this of course doesn’t produce many results. It certainly doesn’t produce what we wanted, that this would become the way management thinks. Things are not as good as they need to be.

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– Jim, are you concerned it is taking too long for lean principles to take root and “infect” senior managers the world over?

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Jim Womack: We are living a moment in which lean is very much the way. Will that go away to be replaced by something totally different? No, but it might be replaced by something with a different name. People will not stop trying to create more value with less resource, but I am concerned that our rate of progress is not equal. Mura, muri, muda are gaining on us.

How people work to create value is for most managers a black box, and we need to light that up. But I am sure that, if not with that name, lean will be around for a long time.

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– Dan, lean can be a great strategic asset a company can use to navigate turbulent economic times. Have you seen an increased interest in it in the past 5-6 years as a direct result of the economic crisis?

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Dan Jones: The first response to globalization was to outsource. That of course wasn’t lean at all, but gave us all a boost: as we enter a world of stagnation, people are beginning to realize that easy tricks are not going to do it. There is now a second wave of interest in lean in unexpected quarters, like healthcare or large projects of infrastructure renewal. It is no longer just about the nuts and bolts of the shop floor – which remains really important – but about changing the way people collaborate and the way management behaves.

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– Jim, to paraphrase you during your keynote here at the UK summit, what can a company that is starting up do to ensure it doesn’t have to start over?

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Jim Womack: Most companies as they start are lean from an operational standpoint. The issue with starting up is whether you are able to fail cheaply and quickly and to find your true path.

Then, there is a common risk of becoming a sclerotic, mass production kind of organization. So there needs to be a method for us to go from a brilliant idea to a brilliant organization.

And then it turns out that large organizations find that some things they are doing run out of energy. That happens with every new generation of product. And when that happens they should act as a startup, which is why they often don’t do a good job at innovating.

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– Dan, at the summit you mentioned there has been a move away from projects towards streams. How can we build on this and what can we learn from younger organizations such as Spotify?

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Dan Jones: Customers are more informed and demanding than ever. As we involve them in our activities, we are forced to rethink how we develop streams – sectors like software and construction are moving away from their traditional project-based approach. Most activities are now organized in streams, but the question remains of how to work together to overcome the traditional vertical power structure of organizations and to support the front line.

Reporting structures must become supporting structures. We have to recognize that organizations exist to support the front line and help them to do the job better. The differential of lean is that it is about learning deeper skills today to solve tomorrow’s problems.

We are going to see interest experiments in the coming years as startups grow.

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– A final question for you both… what is next for lean?

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Jim Womack: We have made a little bit of progress in a lot of places. In the future we have to deepen our foundation in all those industries, countries, functions, and so on.

It’s unclear how much of the seeds we have planted can actually grow up. The lean community has been very good at reporting, but not at supporting.

The world is full of smart, young people and their expectation is that they are going to be supported. There are all kinds of support mechanisms out there, coming out of new technologies like social media. But we must avoid those becoming tools for control.

Dan Jones: I am very optimistic about lean’s contribution to the digital age, and I am trying to reflect on what we have learned and what the implications are for the customer in a knowledge-based world. But there is a lot of confusion on what lean really is compared to traditional consulting. We must redefine the fundamentals, and do that through social media rather than weighty books.

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THE INTERVIEWEES

Dan Jones photograph

Jim Womack photograph

 Daniel Jones and Jim Womack are co-authors of the seminal books The Machine that Changed the World, Lean Thinking and Lean Solutions and co-founders of the lean movement. Dan is founding chair of the Lean Enterprise Academy in the UK, while Jim served as chairman and CEO of the Lean Enteprise Institute in the US from 1997 to 2010.