Valuable Information

as you begin the Lean transformation



Once upon a time there was a man (we’ll call him Bill) who decided that he wanted to become a
craftsman of fine furniture. Not only did he desire to make it his trade, he wanted to become known as
the finest furniture craftsman in the world. To this end, he set out to benchmark the best craftsman in
the world. After doing extensive research, he determined exactly who the best furniture craftsman in
the world was. This man (we’ll call him Tom) made furniture of incredible quality and durability at a
competitive price. What was especially outstanding was that Tom made huge profits, to the point that
not only were his products considered the best, but he was also by far the most wealthy furniture
craftsman in the world.
Bill approached Tom and asked him if he might spend some time with him observing his business. To
Bill’s surprise and delight, Tom immediately agreed. When Bill came to Tom’s shop, he noticed that
Tom had tools that Bill had never heard of before (since Bill had no experience in manufacturing of any
kind). Bill quickly began writing down the names of the tools. A lathe, a band saw, a table saw, a
planer, a router, and more. He asked Tom how the tools worked and Tom gladly showed him. Bill
noted the details of the furniture Tom made so as to be sure he could reproduce it exactly. Tom even
told him where he could buy tools of his own. Bill said to himself, “Tom is a fool! Now he has shown
me all the secrets to his success! All I have to do now is run out, buy all these tools… the exact same
ones Tom has… put them in my shop, and start using them just as Tom uses his. With the same tools I
can produce furniture as good as Tom, perhaps even better!” He thanked Tom for his time and rushed
off to call the equipment and tool suppliers, making orders to set up his shop exactly as Tom had.
Soon, the day came when all the tools had arrived and had been installed in Bill’s shop. Bill was no
dummy. He knew he needed to learn how to use the tools, so he hired a consultant. The consultant
(we’ll call him Jim) was particularly impressive to Bill because he seemed knowledgeable about all the
tools and could demonstrate their use readily enough. Jim had spent years studying Tom’s work and
knew exactly how Tom used each of his tools and exactly how Tom made all of his furniture. What’s
more, Jim had a set implementation plan that, he explained, was the perfect sequence for
implementation of a furniture building enterprise like Tom’s. Bill worked with Jim, following his
implementation plan… even receiving a certification as a master craftsman. He was now ready to begin
making furniture.
At precisely that time, he got his first order. A customer ordered a mission-style bookcase. Bill
enthusiastically began using his tools, to make wooden furniture components just as he had seen Tom
make them. His excitement grew as he went from tool to tool making one beautiful, high quality
component after another. Finally, came the assembly process, resulting in a… Victorian-style china
cabinet. It was as gorgeous a piece of furniture as Bill had ever seen and he couldn’t believe he had
made it. Bill was surprised however when his customer refused to purchase the cabinet. “I ordered a
mission-style bookcase, not a Victorian-style china cabinet! I’m taking my business elsewhere,”
exclaimed the disgruntled, would-be customer.
Bill was crestfallen. He had implemented all the tools; he had followed the guidance of the consultant
and the result of his work looked impressive. In so doing, he had spent his life savings.


He described to Tom his experiences, how he had set up his shop exactly as Tom had, how he had hired
Jim to provide him guidance in how to use the tools, how he had made the components just as Tom had
and better in some cases, but that the result was a product that displeased his customer.
Tom sat silent and reflected for a moment. Finally, he asked to see the drawings Bill had used to build
his furniture. “What are drawings?” asked Bill. Tom replied, “They are the plans that you use to guide
the use of your tools, so that you build each piece correctly and it fits in as an integral part of the
furniture, meeting the needs of your customer.” “I’ve never heard of drawings before! Why didn’t you
tell me about them?” exclaimed Bill. “You never asked,” replied Tom. Tom went on to explain, “It all
begins with the customer. All of us are in this business to make money. Therefore, your business need
is to sell something to the customer, so you have to understand what they want. Once you understand
what the customer wants, you design the furniture and create drawings to explain the design... to
satisfy the customer… in order to meet your business need. You then use the drawings to guide your
use of the tools so that after all your hard work you have not only something that it is beautiful and
functional, but also meets your business need. The tools are not what is important. The important
thing is to use the tools in a manner that meets your business need. To do that you have to have
drawings to guide the use of your tools.”
The above story seems far-fetched, but a recent study revealed that 70% of executives of companies
who have implemented Lean Manufacturing are not happy with the results of their efforts. In many
cases, this is because companies copy Toyota’s tools without copying Toyota’s management philosophy.
Elements of this parable:
Bill = a typical western-thinking manufacturer. He looks only at the superficial things that he sees
about Tom’s operation without deeply understanding how those things are used by Tom to meet Tom’s
business needs. As a result, he solves Tom’s problem in Bill’s business. Rarely is that ever successful.
Tom = Toyota, of course.
Jim = the typical consultant who is a tool peddler rather than someone who helps make the cultural
change to a problem-solving organization
Tools = Lean tools such as 5S, TPM, Pull Systems, Kanban, Visual Management, etc.
Drawings = Hoshin Kanri, the “roadmap” that Toyota uses to ensure closure of gaps so that business
needs and objectives are met.
Victorian-style china cabinet = Toyota’s problem
Craftsman-style bookcase = Your company’s problem
Don’t be Bill!

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