May News – Lean Community

When Jim Womack and Dan Jones launched Lean Thinking back in 1996 a whole chapter was devoted to creating “An Action Plan” to help leaders apply lean thinking to transform their organisations. At the time, Jim and Dan had not found an organisation “free of crisis that was willing to take the necessary steps to adopt lean thinking across the board in a short period of time.” (pp. 250.) It seems the current state is that one of the key levers – a crisis – is all around us.

Last month I discussed how Toyota went back to basics in the eye of the financial crisis, its safety recalls and the supply disruptions resulting from natural disaster. During May, Akio Toyoda caused quite a stir across the lean community when he presented the company’s financial performance. A summary is available here. The web based discussion and reflection initially focussed on the article headlined “Virus forcing rethink of Japanese way of business, CEO says” which reported that Akio Toyoda was questioning genchi genbutsu. The irony was that by going to the source (practicing genchi genbutsu) it was clear that what had been interpreted by a reporter, turned into a catchy headline and subsequently discussed by a number of “lean experts” on the internet wasn’t really accurate. While answering the question (number 8 from the earlier link) Toyoda suggested there was a need to clarify the definition again of Toyota’s genchi genbutsu. Toyoda had earlier expressed that the “real world” will need to be protected during the crisis. The “genba” or frontline where the work gets done. It was hardly the end of genchi genbutsu.

John Shook and Jeffrey Liker collaborated to make sense of the press conference. A link to their excellent article is provided below. I’d add, that when reading the transcript of the actual press conference the stand out items for me were that Akio Toyoda:

  • Talked about the impact Covid19 had on his time. Reducing 80% of his transportation time, 85% of the people he meets with, 30% of the time in meetings and 50% of the documents prepared for meetings. The time saving is to be diverted to investing in the future and focussing resources on developing Toyota and the new way of working. 
  • The new way of working is enabling speed of decision making. Toyoda claimed that previously data was one to two weeks old by the time it reached him. The change is giving him more real time information.
  • Toyoda had freed up time to think. The reflections were very deep – on the way he had been spending his time vs the way he wanted to spend it. It appears the crisis has been a great lever for consciousness – really understanding the work being done and what needs to be done. 

During the crisis our work and gemba at LEA has changed considerably. Unable to visit our co-learning partners or others doing great lean thinking we’ve been conducting experiments to learn how we can support the lean community more effectively in these times and beyond. We’ve seized the crisis, speeding up the launch of our new website you are visiting now.

As background, we had been rethinking the role of our website. Since the last redesign around 2012 much has changed in both the lean community and in terms of what can be done on the web. Our original concept based around “Learning – Educating – Sharing” primarily involved news articles and cases on the home page. Many of these moved to Planet-Lean so really needed a new purpose and a new set of problems to solve. We asked a number of you in the community and received some great insights on your thoughts and your struggles.

You asked us to keep the writing and event materials. You’ll now find articles in a single blog area. All of Dan’s articles going back to 2004 are contained there. The events area will have details of our future events (we are in the process of working through the questions for this year’s Summit, for example) but also has a back catalogue of our previous events including links to YouTube presentations and presenter slides. Both are a great resource for anyone to look at and we will make further changes to it moving forward to make it easier to navigate.

This short video is one of the many pieces of learning we are developing to provide a blended Lean Learning Journey though

However the biggest change centres around the idea of creating a “Lean Learning Journey” on By moving to a new content management system we have been able to integrate a Learning Management System into the website. Here we will offer both free and paid content that support the key building blocks of developing lean thinking and practice at both individual and organisational levels.  Our first set of material, based on problem solving is being tested as I write. We will make sure you know about it as soon as it’s available. As a taster, here is one of the videos that explains waste (non-value creating activities.) I think you are all going to find it a really valuable resource.

Keep Calm and Manage Stably
In this article published simultaneously on Planet Lean and Jeffrey Liker and John Shook reflect on Akio Toyoda’s May 2020 press conference.