Monday, August 7, 2017

Is Lean a Set of Principles or a Set of Tools?

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

“What is your thinking way, Pascal-san?”

Thanks all, for your thoughtful replies to the above question. Fine insights from many good people.

I’m reminded of a gemstone, that when held to the light reveals an array of color.

I suggested that Lean is a set of principles that turn into methods & tools, and that the latter may vary with the application.

Principles are ideas; methods are the action that bring them to life. To quote my friend & colleague, Skip Steward, “Principles and methods work hand in hand. Without one, the other will fail…”

A core principle like ‘Make Problems Visible’ will entail different methods in different situations. Different methods in, say, a consumer goods supply chain, than in a hospital pharmacy.

Much of my personal practice entails coaching senior executives. I start with the principles, which immediately gets their interest. Underlying message: “Lean is a transformational strategy, hard to do, but a game-changer.”

Starting with tools sends a different message. “Lean is like a skilled trade – helpful, useful, worth doing, but not a game-changer.”

Many of you wrote that Lean is a culture, a way of thinking. Well said, and I would add: we create a culture when a large group of people understand, absorb and consistently practice a set of principles.

Our Toyota senseis emphasized principles above all. A common question: “What is your thinking way?”

Lean principles (thinking) are the road to transformation. They open the door for elegant, intuitive and useful Lean methods, and help senior leaders understand Lean’s full potential.

Best regards,


Monday, July 24, 2017

All Systems Must Support Humanity – Including Lean

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

The Toyota Production System (TPA, aka ‘Lean’) is perhaps the world’s most powerful management system.

Many people (including the Lean Pathways team & I) have dedicated themselves to learning & practicing its methods & mindsets, and to unlocking its mysteries.

Practiced diligently TPS provides a bountiful harvest. Like all great systems, TPS can be all-encompassing. It can absorb practitioners to such an extent that we can lose sight of the most important things.

Such as why are we practising TPS/Lean? What’s our Purpose?

Strong companies & people define Purpose clearly & simply. They understand that Purpose (often called True North) must be simple, visual and compelling. Something for the head & something for the heart.

And therein lies the challenge. It’s easy to forget about the heart. The Lean system, the methodologies & their interplay, is so engrossing that it absorb all our attention.

All systems, including Lean, must support our humanity – not vice versa!

Sadly, we all know organizations that lose sight of this fundamental idea. There’s a hollowness to them, an emptiness that ultimately limits their achievement.

The history of the 20th century teaches us that supposedly “idealistic” systems can even turn monstrous when disconnected from humanity.

So what’s this mean for the practicing manager and leader? Practice what I call the “Warm Heart Principle”: Easy on the people, hard on the process.

It’s not all about efficiency. It’s about effectiveness, achieving both our head & heart goals.

Don’t want to be misunderstood. I am not saying it’s okay to relax standards. Leaders have to be crispy at times, and being so is not necessarily inhumane. (Quite the opposite, in fact.)

I am saying, keep your heart goal close. Let it inform the management system you are building.

All systems must support humanity.

Best regards,


Monday, July 10, 2017

What is a Good Life?

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Plato, Socrates and Aristotle asked this question 2,500 years ago. Both eastern and western philosophy is largely the search for an answer.

Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator's Dilemma, Harvard professor, and classic hyper-achiever is raising the same question.

(Quite a conversion, no? Master of the universe to philosopher. Good on you, Clayton.)

In a recent interview, Dr. Christensen remarks that he is struck by how badly the lives of his fellow hyper-achievers have turned out.

Messy divorces, estranged kids, and even, in some cases, fraud and imprisonment.

Can Lean principles help to answer this most important question? I believe it can.

Lean thinking is anchored in standards -- images of how things should be.

Values are standards. Integrity entails adherence to one's personal standards.

Those of you kind enough to read my books may have noted an emphasis on the Cardinal Virtues.

Prudence, Temperance, Courage and Justice, are, of course, standards of behavior.

Low-down, miserable, tricky, treacherous beings such as us have a hard time living up to them.

But we have to try, and in doing so we partially succeed -- and that makes all difference.

So what is a good life? I'd say a good life entails having good values, and trying to live up to them.

Thanks Dr C. for raising the question.

Best regards,


Monday, June 26, 2017

Lean is a System

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

The eternal verities are just that, and we need to keep returning to them.

Lean methods have such an appealing clarity and intuitiveness that we can easily lose sight of the most important thing:

They’re just tools – methods, drills, routines that are part of a broader system and set of principles.

And that system, which some people call the Toyota Production System (TPS), helps us continually address the most important questions of management:

  • What is our Purpose?
  • What should be happening?
  • What is actually happening?
  • How do we get back to a good condition?
  • What is our ideal condition?
  • What will we do next to get closer to our ideal condition?

These questions are a fractal, of course, and apply at all levels from the front line (Level 1) on up.

And as parts of a system, Lean methods must express the core principles, and connect to:
  • Purpose, and
  • One another

If a given method, say 5S, does not connect to our over-arching Purpose, by helping to make problems visible, for example, why are we doing it?

And a given method like 5S only makes lasting sense and provides lasting value if it is connected to other methods, which in turn are connected to Purpose.

So 5S is connected to Standardized Work, which is connected to building quality into the process, which is essential if we are to flow our products & services to our customers, which is essential to meeting our Purpose.

You get the idea. Sorry to belabor the point, but losing sight of our core principles and purpose is a clear & present danger, perhaps the biggest one facing the ‘Lean movement’.

If we navigate according to our principles & purpose, we can change the world.

If not, we’ll perhaps deliver some helpful cost savings, and while being relegated to the dusty & damp management tool shed.

Best regards,