I was reading an article titled “Was Steve Lean?” by John Shook on A Lean Enterprise today in which he ponders whether Steve Jobs’ leadership of Apple could have been considered “Lean.”
Using parallels to Henry Ford, who some say was one of the first innovators of what we now call lean thinking (which I think Shook takes some issue with), he seems to arrive at the conclusion that Jobs was not really a lean thinker.
Citing examples that Jobs was not very respectful toward his workers and basically dismissed ideas from gemba or from customers, Shook takes issue with this, reminding us that these are some of the foundations of lean thinking:
That takes us back to that charge of the most “unlean” of practices: Jobs’ apparent lack of respect toward the workers who built his products on the other side of the world. While structurally Jobs’ supply chain had striking similarities with Toyota’s, in the case of the latter, great effort was expended to extend respect in the form of engagement of all employees, including factory workers. No old Fordist “check your brain at the door” — engagement of the entire person in daily kaizen was encouraged and expected by Toyota.
What Shook doesn’t do, though, is say that Jobs is wrong, and that he should have been more lean. Obviously, Jobs did something right, and Shook doesn’t really mention if the companies that actually produce Apple’s products are lean. That makes more sense to me. Jobs, in the end, was not in charge of a product manufacturing factory. He created more of a design and retail factory, and I don’t necessarily think those NEED to be lean.