Building on “The God Principle?” By Lester Sutherland

I really enjoyed “The God Principle?” post by Jerry. I see that the scientists at CERN have now announced the capture of a particle of anti-hydrogen. The theory is that anti- matter and matter annihilated each other in most part at the beginning of the universe and since there was a slightly greater abundance of matter (baryon asymmetry); we live in a matter universe.

Could it be that there is also an asymmetry of improvement techniques, where we have some people of the mind that improvements are done by engineers who determine the best method and give it to workers; and others who believe that improvements come from within the workers with help from coaches, facilitators, and leaders?

During the craft production era we saw much input from workers in an apprentice system, where training was paramount and all businesses tended to be entrepreneurial. Then we moved to the industrial revolution and suddenly experts told workers what to do and how. This system of “experts” has been shown to be a major factor in the disempowerment of workers, with a reduction of the quality and improvement suggestions from workers (Adler & Cole, 1993). Now we tend to be moving back towards a more humanistic system where workers again become more central to improvement.

The teachings of Frederick Taylor tended to fall into the first camp; and we see Frederick Taylor telling Schultz:

“Well, if you are a high-priced man, you will do exactly as this man tells you tomorrow, from morning till night. When he tells you to pick up a pig and walk, you pick it up and you walk, and when he tells you to sit down and rest, you sit down”.

(Taylor. 191, P. 24)

Taylor quickly established a consulting business based on Scientific Management and his collaborators in this business included Gilbreth, Gantt, Barth, Hathaway, Thompson and Cooke (Nadworny, 1957, P. 24). Frederick Taylor’s methods have been around for a very long time, but the old style of Management and Taylor’s method of developing workers has been shown to be flawed. Taylor shows his method very well in how he related to Schmidt and what Taylor saw his own “expert” task as.  Taylor writes “The task before us, then, narrowed itself down to getting Schmidt to handle 47 tons of pig iron per day and making him glad to do it. (Taylor, 1911, p. 23). The method Taylor uses to do that is the early industrial engineering tools, and direction on how to do the job from an “Expert”. The industrial engineering tools are very effective for increasing productivity, when there is no resistance, and are still around and used. These tools are now often referred to as the “Lean” tools, but their effective use has moved from Taylor’s style to a more humanistic Lean form, in an effort to avoid the resistance.

Researchers of Industrial Engineering have come to realize that there is a great deal more productivity available from a system of employees who learn and contribute to the improvements, than those who perform as directed by “experts”. We have seen in companies where every employee is trained and encouraged to be an expert there is a robust increase in productivity and quality. As Russ Scaffede said at the Michigan Lean Consortium conference in November, effective enterprises move from having a department of 15 or so industrial engineers to having a whole plant where every worker is an industrial engineer.

When everyone was a craftsman there was a significant amount of empowerment and Continuous Improvement.  The industrial revolution and American system of manufacturing reduced the worker to semi-skilled automaton through interchangeable parts and division of labor.  There were other schools of thought that sprung up to compete with the somewhat dehumanizing system. These were the socio-technical systems in Europe (Emery, Thorsrud, & Trist, 1969) and what was called Japanese management style (Ouchi, 1981; Pascale, Athos, & Parker, 1986). Both of these systems tended to have a more empowered employee. The socio-technical systems being more loosely coupled independent teams, and the Lean system being more standardized with close coupled team leaders and supervision.  Both systems were much more humanistic with significant employee training, problem solving, and empowerment (Niepce, Willem, & Molleman, 1998; Berggren,1992). The more structure Japanese management system (Lean) has apparently won out, in automotive at least, with Volvo closing its Uddevalla plant. The Uddevalla plant had used the socio technical style, but there is debate about how much management understood the socio-technical system, or were committed to it (Hammarström, & Lansbury, 1991; Adler & Cole, 1993). But both the socio-technical and the Lean systems were more effective than the Taylorist expert system however.

The act of having every worker responsible and empowered to improve their own job is much more effective that having industrial engineers draw maps and use stopwatches while deciding how to direct the worker to improve. So I will state it again, both socio-technical systems and Lean systems are more effective than management directed Taylorist type systems.

When we move into the office knowledge worker system the Taylorist approach quickly breaks down anyway. It is difficult or impossible to see what happens inside the workers head and draw a motion study or process map of the flow between their ears. Furthermore, in a knowledge work situation the resistance to an expert of the Taylorist type is of the worst hidden kind. That is why when someone enters the office system with the expert mentality there is disengagement, and their pseudo lean methods (tools) start to loose meaning.  Peter Drucker knew and wrote about this in 1999, and yet we are still stumbling around trying to make an expert Taylorist system work.  The productivity improvements of knowledge workers rely on the workers, “Knowledge Workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy.” (Drucker, 1999, p. 84). Drucker went on to build a list of items necessary for knowledge workers to succeed and continuously improve:

Six major factors determine knowledge-worker productivity.

•      Knowledge-worker productivity demands that we ask the question: “What is the task?”

•      It demands that we impose the responsibility for their productivity on the individual knowledge workers themselves. Knowledge Workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy.

•      Continuing innovation has to be part of the work, the task and the responsibility of knowledge workers.

•      Knowledge work requires continuous learning on the part of the knowledge worker, but equally continuous teaching on the part of the knowledge worker.

•      Productivity of the knowledge worker is not-at least not primarily a matter of the quantity of output. Quality is at least as important.

•      Finally, knowledge-worker productivity requires that the knowledge worker is both seen and treated as an “asset” rather than a “cost.” It requires that knowledge workers want to work for the organization in preference to all other opportunities.

(Drucker, 1999, P.84)

Possibly the most important factor for both knowledge worker and production worker to succeed and improve is the level of leadership practiced by the company management.  We often confuse the management of a company with its leadership. But management is objectives driven and results in stability. Leadership in contrast is purpose driven and results in change based on values, ideals and vision (Antonakis, Cianciolo, & Sternberg, (Eds.), 2004) Leadership is an extensive and poorly understood field (Fiedler, 1971; Bryman, 1992), but it has a key impact on how a company responds to changes in its environment. If you want to keep building the same quality car until you go bankrupt you just need management.  If, however, you need to respond to new competition and change how you do business to improve, then you need leadership. Leadership merits a posting all of its own and I do believe that leadership is where “The God Principle” resides.


Adler, P. & Cole, R.  (1993). Designed for learning: a tale of two auto plants. Sloan Management Review, v34(n3), p85(10).

Antonakis, J., Cianciolo, A. & Sternberg, R. (Eds.)  (2004).  The Nature of Leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Berggren, C. (1992). Alternatives to lean production : work organization in the Swedish auto industry. Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press.

Drucker, P. (1999) Knowledge-worker productivity: The biggest challenge. California Management Review; Winter 1999; 41, 2. pg. 79

Emery, F. E., Thorsrud, E., & Trist, E. L. (1969). Form and content in industrial democracy: some experiences from Norway and other European countries.  London,: Tavistock Publications.

Hammarström, O., & Lansbury, R. D. (1991). The art of building a car: the Swedish experience re-examined. New Technology, Work and Employment, 6(2), 85-90.

Kotter, J. P. (1997). Matsushita leadership: Lessons from the 20th century’s most remarkable entrepreneur. New York, NY [u.a.: Free Press.

Nadworny, M. (1957) Frederick Taylor and Frank Gilbreth: competition in scientific management. The Business History Review.  Vol. 31, No. 1 (Spring, 1957), pp.      23-34.

Niepce, Willem, and Eric Molleman. (1998) “Work design issues in lean production from  a sociotechnical systems perspective: neo-Taylorism or the next step in sociotechnical design?” Human Relations 51.3: 259+.

Ouchi, W. G. (1981). Theory Z: how American business can meet the Japanese challenge. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

Pascale, R. T., Athos, A. G., & Parker, P. (1986). The art of Japanese management. London [etc.]: Penguin Books.

Taylor, F. W. (1911). The principles of scientific management. New York, London,: Harper & Brothers.

Womack, J. P., Jones, D. T., & Roos, D. (1991). The machine that changed the world:  How Japan’s secret weapon in the global auto wars will revolutionize western industry. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

The God Principle? By Jerry Bronkema

Enjoy our first guest post about lean techniques in the office…

Right now untold millions are being spent by CERN at the Large Hadron Collider searching for a new particle called the Higgs Boson or the God particle.  Finding this particle, I am told, could help scientist one day develop the much sought after theory of everything.  I find it interesting that theoretical physicists never stop searching for unification; always striving for one theory that will describe all the laws of the universe.  This makes me think about implementing Lean in the office.

I recently attended a user group held at Steelcase University on Office Lean.  Our goal for the two-day event was to share best practices and build knowledge around how Lean techniques can be used in the office.

While much has been written about Office Lean, (a Google search on the exact phrase “Office Lean” provides you with 39,200 results) there still seems to be a feeling, at least among our group at Steelcase, that we are feeling our way through the dark with a flashlight.

So let’s take a moment to look at the seven basic principles of Lean through the eyes of an Office Lean implementer:

1.        Empowering People: This one seems simple enough on the surface, if you work in the process; you have the power to fix it.  But if we dig a bit deeper, we find the real problem is not empowerment, but ownership.  The typical office process is a sneaky, invisible process, with an amazing ability to morph on a day-to-day basis depending on the mood of the person and an infinite set of variables.  Who would want to step up and own such a process?  Not me!

2.        Eliminating Waste: Ah the Lean mantra, if there is one principle us Lean Practitioners hold sacred, it is the intense hatred of Muda, Mura, and Muri.  In the manufacturing world we “walk the process” looking for waste.  It’s usually not hard to see, too much movement over here, a pallet that waits on the dock over there, and my favorite, the worker who spends 20 minutes hunting down the right tools.  But when we look for waste in our office, we quickly realize that “walking the process” means getting inside a users mind, and suddenly, we have a very different animal.  The question becomes, how do you eliminate something you can’t see, smell, touch, taste or hear?  How do we make the office process visible and expose the waste?

3.        Making Everything As Simple As Possible: This one cuts right to the heart of most organizations.  On one side, is the Lean Practitioner, No. 2 pencil and clip board in hand.  Armed with a deep-seated hatred of waste and an empowering speech, we set off believing that common sense will prevail.  On the other side, is the corporate structure of silos, sacred cows and “untouchable” processes.  I liken this corporate culture to a fungus that can only survive on the host of a living organism.  These processes suck the life blood out of your Lean efforts and leave you feeling weak and anemic.  How is your corporate culture, is it one that promotes simplicity or chaos?

4.        Doing One Thing At A Time: I once heard a story of a Toyota manager who asked his manufacturing workers to refuse defects from the previous step in the process.  Instead of acting heroically and fixing the defect, they were instructed to simply set the offending  part aside, and stand idle with their hands in the air.  I am not sure if this is a true story or just a “Lean Parable” design to make us think.  However, I can’t help but think what effect it might have if our office staff stood idle at their cube each time they had to investigate or re-work a piece of incorrect information.  I am confident we could eliminate chairs in the department where I work!  So, is it practical for the office worker to achieve this Lean principle in a world designed for multitasking?  Does this principle even apply to the Lean Office?

5.        Keep Everything Flowing: Flow; aside from eliminating waste, this might be our most sacred principle.  Us Lean thinkers have taken the concept of flow to almost religious heights.  At Kaizen events all around the globe you can hear the chant “don’t go, until you flow.”  I see hope for office flow.  Too often we tend to batch in the office; I tend to process all my invoices on Friday for example.  However, I think this mind-set is slowly changing in the office work force.  Do you see flow in your office, or is it just multitasking in a clever disguise?

6.        Making Everything Visual: This is the Lean principle that gives me heartburn in the office.  I have spent countless hours’ process mapping the office process.  I have process maps printed on giant plotter paper.  I have metrics to ensure the process has the desired outcome.  I have Standard Operating Procedures to guide and train.  But, I still don’t have visibility.  Are your office processes visible?  Can you take a Gemba walk and see the waste?  Are more/better metrics the key, or do we run the risk of measuring everything, and improving nothing?

7.        Building In Quality: Quality, they say, can’t be inspected into the process.  So then, quality must be built into the process.  Poka Yoke it and ensure that a mistake can’t be made.  This concept works well with a limited set of variables.  The three-pronged outlet plug has only three uniquely shaped prongs.  Design an outlet to match the shape of the prongs and even a toddler can plug the TV in correctly.  No training manual necessary.  What then happens when your list of variables grow from three to thirty-three?  Designing a mistake proof office process is a lifetime achievement award at most companies.

To me, something seems to be missing when we move Lean into the office.  I am proposing an all out search to find a principle that holds our traditional Lean principles together in an office setting.  We need something that transcends both the manufacturing floor and the office.  We need something that allows our seven principles to work equally well in either environment.  We need to find the God principle.