Does Lean Mean “Easy and Simple”?

Mark Hamel’s Gemba Tales blog is one website to which I continually return.  Hamel is an accomplished fellow, and that comes through in his writing.  Without sounding haughty or pompous, Hamel can throw real-world examples into his posts, and the reader will come away with something they didn’t know before.

So, when he was writing about simplicity and its relationship to lean, I couldn’t help but take a look.

He noted that, although lean strives to simplify, it can’t always be explained or analyzed in a simplistic way, or things get lost and expectations get confusing:

But, some folks in their rush to keep things simple, careen into “simplism.”

‘Simplism,’ defined by thefreedictionary.com, is, “[t]he tendency to oversimplify an issue or a problem by ignoring complexities or complications.”

I think a lot of simplism is driven by a type of unthinking lean just-do-it machismo, detachment from the gemba, and/or ignorance of lean principles, systems, and tools.

Simplism begets simplistic directives. Like, within the next quarter, team leaders need to facilitate problem-solving like their counterparts at Toyota.

Except, there just might be some “complications” that need to be addressed first, such as the fact that Toyota team leader span of controls is in the 5-8 associate range, and our team leaders have 15 to 20 associates… not to mention the profound training and mentorship that is required to develop effective team leaders.

I think what Hamel is saying makes sense.  I’ve met people (managers unfamiliar with lean, or even with manufacturing processes as a whole) who think that this lean “magic bullet” will make everything easier for them to understand, and that their profits and waste will magically coalesce.

This is silly, and, just like Hamel writes, being in the gemba and offering their best effort to sustain what they start is how this lean thing works.  This is a way of life, not a one-time fix.

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