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25 October 2005


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Bill, I too have found a desire amongst some to look lean, even as their focus and actions are 180 degrees out of phase with becoming lean. I recently found an interesting dissertation describing this ( http://www.cs.ucla.edu/%7Eslu/on_research/fayman_science.html ), and now have a name for it: Cargo Cult Science.
In my early studies of the lean literature, it became clear that Ford, Ohno, and Shingo shared some common traits. I like to think that in my experience under the watchful eye of the senseis of Shingijutsu I gained experience in something that I had read but not seen in the books, which goes a long way in explaining the difference between ‘looking’ and ‘being’ – the way they thought.
Sprinkled all through their books is a common thread; they honor experience, but demand thought and action. They embodied the spirit of the scientific method, and gave it teeth. If they had developed the Shewart cycle (Plan, Do, Check, Act), it would likely be known as Do, Check, Act, Plan. It was a blending of Applied Research and Pure Research. Like many experimenters, they were not entirely satisfied with results of experiments, and collectively could have come up with the phrase ‘what have you done for me lately?’ The twist would have been that they would not penalize ‘bad’ results – they knew that results were results, good and bad are judgments.
In searching for help in learning lean, or a consultant for your operation, it is important to find out if they have the curiosity and interest to think and experiment, to ask and learn. Much like when looking for a health care professional, experience is good, but once we understand that every one of us is different, the willingness of the doctor to observe and learn how your individual system works is the critical factor to health and success.

This is a great comment; and the 'Cargo Cult' imagery is fantastic. For those who aren't familar with it, the 'Cargo Cults' were primitive South Pacific islanders with no knowledge at all of the outside world. When WWII came along, seemingly out of nowhere to these people, the military came to their islands and built airstrips. Apparently enough good stuff spilled over or was left behind to make all of this pretty good to the island folk. Long after the War was over, they would try to simulate the look and feel of the airstrips in order to entice whatever god had dropped C-47's full of loot on them before to come back.
Thomas compares these people with factories that do all of the lean looking tricks without comprehending the bigger, meatier issues involved in lean. Such managers - like the Cargo Cultists - seem to think that if they can get their factory floors to look like Toyota, then the Lean God will be pleased and rain profits down on them.
Thanks Thomas.

Thank you. You discussions of Ford's assembly line versus machining operations have clarified a problem I've had in describing the activities in building models of complex systems.

Great essay Bill.

Thanks for the Cargo Cult analogy. I think it is appropriate to many of the problems we face in manufacturing.

The shame of it is that many engineers, managers, and leaders out there believe that we should follow the Methodology -- Hurry up and implement lean without any analysis...... or the opposite with Six Sigma -- if some analysis is good, then infinite analysis must be infinitely better......

The problem is getting caught up in the look and feel of the "Methodology" and loosing the focus on the goal of every one of the methods.... Economically solving problems and eliminating waste.


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