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The Foundations of Lean By Tom Fabrizio, Lean Manufacturing Tools, Portland, OR

Lean is a strategy for growth. It challenges deeply held beliefs. The history of Lean proves that people and planning are much more effective than tools.

In the 1930s, Harvard psychologist Elton Mayoi described a view of organizational behavior based on the idea that human interaction and work conditions determine how well an organization performs—not profit motive, which dominated management thinking.

Manufacturers were enthralled by time measurement and efficiency, or Scientific Management, also known as Taylorismii, named for Frederick Winslow Tayloriii. But Taylor was not its only advocate. In 1910 it was a Boston union lawyer named Louis Brandeis who convinced a group of manufacturing experts to call what they were doing “scientific management.iv” Efficiency was crucial, he said, but it had to be gained through consensus with workers. Efficiency expert Lillian Gilbreth went even further: the purpose of efficiency was to increase “happiness hours,” resulting in workplace improvement, reduction of fatigue, and added productivityv.

When Dr. Joseph M. Juranvi and W. Edwards Demingvii combined these team approaches with rational scientific management in the 1950s, a powerful system was born. But nobody listenedviii.

Nobody, that is, except The Toyota Motor Company. Deming and Juran taught key concepts to help rebuild several Japanese industries after World War IIix. Japanese industrialists were so impressed that they combined them with Henry Ford’s commonsense manufacturing and the Just-In-Time system of the modern American supermarket to create The Toyota Production Systemx.

Japanese experts pointed out that they were just building on history, claiming that if there is a secret, this was it: -

Get long-term management commitment, even at the expense of short-term gains


Emphasize customer value and relentlessly attack anything that does not add value


Set explicit organizational objectives, measurements, and responsibilities


Identify priorities for improvement, especially those that emphasize adding value to the product


Develop a new work theory (new standards) to integrate these priorities into daily work


Continue to test new strategies every day


Never waste your human resources


Involve everyone through all types of teams—learn by doing

So the secret has been revealed—almost. The key elements to Lean are not the tools. They are cultural and organizational. You need a carefully interwoven set of policies and

practices that give you one basic result—business growth. Not just survival, but growth. Lean is the strategy for growth. i

Mayo, Elton, The Problems of an Industrialized Civilization, Macmillan Company (1933) Taylor, Frederick, Principles of Scientific Management, Harper Brothers (1911) iii Littler, Craig R., British Journal of Society, Vol. 29, Number 2 (June 1978) iv Gilbreth, Frank, et al, Primer of Scientific Management, Van Nostrand Company (1912) v Gilbreth, Lillian, “Psychology of Management”, Industrial Engineering & Engineering Digest (May, June 1912) vi Juran, Joseph M., Management of Quality Control, New, York, New York (1967) vii Walton, Mary, The Deming Management Method, The Putnam Publishing Group (1986) viii Fabrizio, Thomas A., “Discussions with Dr. Deming on the Way to the Airport”, Boston, (1988) ix Aguay, Rafael, “Dr. Deming: The American Who Taught the Japanese About Quality”, Fireside Edition x Ohno, Taiichi, Toyota Production System, Productivity Press (1978) ii

Tom Fabrizio is the founder of Lean Manufacturing Tools and an Adjunct Professor at Portland State University. He has authored several books on Lean and was originally trained by the best Lean experts in the world, including Shigeo Shingo from Toyota and Deming Prize-winner Ryuji Fukuda.

The Foundations of Lean  

By Tom Fabrizio, Lean Manufacturing Tools, Portland, OR

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