LMJ Editorial Director, Jon Tudor recently had the fortune of sitting down with some of lean’s biggest names at the AME Toronto conference. However, for a change, instead of us asking the questions, we passed it over to some of the UK’s top manufacturers and lean professionals. Our first interview in this series is with management expert and lean author, James Womack.

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Mark Donnelly, Global Head of Operational Excellence, Lonza Biologics: Of all the companies you have visited and researched, what is the biggest contributing factor to lean implementation and sustainability?

James Womack: There are several things you need in your senior people. You need some ability to learn how to see, so you can see what you are talking about. Second thing is that you have to be earnest. I can’t emphasise how important it is to have an earnest, experimental frame of mind. So many senior people want to simply assert the way things must be and the job of the people down below is to salute and say “yes boss”. So you must have an experimental mind set, and to be experimental means you have to be earnest, because most experiments don’t work quite the way you thought and many experiments don’t work at all. Leaders need to get there glasses adjusted so you can tell value from waste, so you have to learn how to see, be earnest, experimental and you have to stick to your last.

Graham Patterson, Group Head of Manufacturing Excellence, Premier Foods: When presenting a business case at board level, what are the key elements or language you believe to be successful?

JW: Fundamentally it’s about management and managing in a different way. For example,  you need to manage by process, and right now most modern companies are managing by metrics, we need to manage by process and that is what Taichi Ohno said 50 years ago. Therefore you need to say to your board that this is not about measurement, it’s not about technical tricks, it’s about managing in a different way and either its permanent or it’s not worth doing. It’s not a programme with a two-year time frame. If what you are looking for is a two-year programme with a lot of consultants that you may get some spectacular results from, and then the third year you have nothing, but that’s OK because you’re off the board and gone on to a better job, then your CEO has also gone to a better job. Are we serious and do we want to build a better enterprise that’s going to be good for everybody that touches your organisation? This is serious, this is big, and this is long-term. You want to do this.

Ken Collet, Managing Director, Crane Payment Solutions: Which one book do you wish you had written?

JW: There are many books that I wished I had rewritten and there are lots of books I wish I had read earlier. But seriously, I always did the best job I could do when writing. However, a book I wish I read much earlier was Ford Methods and the Ford Shops by Arnold and Faurote. This was a series of articles that tell the story of the amazing leap Ford had taken, which I didn’t know about as I was writing The Machine (that Changed the World), but I wish I did.

Richard Lloyd, Global Manufacturing Director, Accolade Wines: If you are running a manufacturing site, what are the top three measures you ensure are visible, understood and owned by all employees?

JW: If I was running a factory I would say to the management, “what are our value streams (or product lines)?” Do we have end to end visibility within the plant? We’ve probably got a layout, a spaghetti diagram, a bunch of flowcharts, but do we have any way to visualise action and control information? Those are the two things we are interested in, the actions that we are taking on the product and the information that controls it.

Jon Tudor, LMJ Editorial Director: What are the biggest contributors to the failure of a lean implementation?

JW: Firstly, if you have the imperial CEO who thinks this is going to be done to people, and I will have a lean programme, with a lean rollout and lean metrics, the troops will say “a‘hah, we have seen this before, let’s pretend to do something. It will pass and soon this guy will be gone.” So every time I see a lean programme, I say “please take down that sign and get rid of that.” What we are talking about is how you manage. This is a different, permanent way of managing, and if it’s a programme it will not last. Also, if this is a top dog talking to Mr top dog consultant and between us we are going to make you do this, or we are going to do this to you, well then it’s fair to say that failure is guaranteed.

Jacob Austad, Lean Denmark: Is there a difference between starting a lean journey in a service sector compared to a manufacturing environment?

JW: For me there is no difference at all. Most people report that lean in non-manufacturing is more difficult. Everything is electronic, all files, so they say it is very hard. However, to me it’s so much easier to move them around. You don’t have to unbolt a machine or a series of machines. The issue is they can’t see what they do, and so they need to be able to learn to see. An office is a series of processes that are done by people in a series of steps. In an insurance company, everything’s electronic, it’s all documents in files which are part of processes. There’s a policywriting process, there’s a claims process, adjustment process etc., but they can’t see the process. There is no difference, they have to make the process visible so they know if they are ahead or behind.

Gwendolyn Galsworth, PhD l President l Visual Thinking & The Visual-Lean Institute: How do you resolve your love of, loyalty to, and knowledge in TPS with the popularity of six sigma in the USA and Europe?

JW: I don’t see any inconsistency whatsoever. These are people who are trying to create the perfect process, so the question is not about objectives, but about specific tactical efforts. Every problem has its correct method for resolution. What I have seen is that six sigma can go hopelessly astray. Someone has picked some problems which are really interesting technically and which are going to be really impressive. But when the master black belt finally pulls the rabbit out of the hat, it has almost nothing to do with the business. Both lean and six sigma can go astray, what they are trying to do is create a perfect process where every step is capable and flexible, and changes to capacity and creates value. If you use the right tool for the right thing, we can all be happy.

Colin Larkin, Plant Manager, CNH UK: What needs to happen to make governments leaner, because they just don’t seem to get it?

JW: The interesting thing about government is whether it is fulfilment or the enforcement side of government, it’s a process. Government is not used to thinking from a process standpoint, and politicians have zero aptitude whatsoever. Look at the situation they are in. Everything is on a very short electoral cycle, but the fact the UK Prime Minister may have five years in a term, almost all the people under that Prime Minister will change regularly. Then you have the civil service. There’s total continuity but they cannot see across functions. Most things that the government does crosses over but there’s no visibility, there is no transparency. Therefore it’s no surprise that governments are coming to the party late with regard to lean. There is a widespread understanding in governments that they are never going to have more money, and that the service load is going to go up. There was always hope that if you were on the left you would get more taxes and on the right you will offer less services. In the middle, you have the same services but no more taxes, so this focuses the operational mind of the government, to say “oh my gosh, to succeed as a politician I have to deliver the same or better services with no more money.” If you are a manager in a government department, you say “gee, in my department my budget is never going up, and yet I am expected to do the same or more.” At the moment there are a lot of experiments going on with lean government, particular healthcare. If it will have a happy ending, I don’t know.