Lost in Lean's translation

X — With all these Japanese words dotted around lean literature, it must be difficult to spread the knowledge around.

Me — Sometimes having difficult words can be an asset : take lean for instance, it’s probably impossible to translate in any language. Certainly not in French for instance : maigre doesn’t quite sound right for any thoughtful way to do stuff.

X — I was speaking about the Japanese stuff…

Me — Well I did learn some Lean stuff while not speaking any Japanese at all. Andon, Gemba and Kanban are not that difficult to grasp. Kanban for instance is only a tangible sign made of paper or metal…

X, interupting — Hold on, we’re both in the tech world and we know Kanban is something else altogether : it’s just a board with 3 columns To Do, Doing and Done.

Me — Alas… Old Lean senseis would be devastated to hear such nonsense. This kind of board is not event showing the lead time for each task : there’s no space whatsoever for any self-reflection. It’s only good enough - at best - to cap the work-in-progress. It’s missing the entire chain of help that’s crucial for any lean initiative for instance. It feels like some consultant found a gem in the old manufacturing literature and set up a big tent on his way back from the mine with a big neon light flashing « you too can have a glimpse of the gem I found, and you know what, you don’t have to go down there : I did all the work for you ».

X — I can feel the irony and the sorrow in your last tirade.

Me — Indeed the door is wide open but remains very small. And the world is getting bigger and fatter, with more money, more processes and more bureaucracies. I’m just waiting for the interest rates to go up and resources to become scarce : Lean’s true potential will be felt more widely then. Not before unfortunately.

X — That sounds gloomy.

Me — That’s probably because you haven’t heard the news about climate change and all the rest of it : they’re a real cause for concern. Off course, you can look out for true Lean companies doing incredible stuff with Karakuri Kaizen or Lean & Green. But in the meantime, don’t forget that better quality brings profitability and faster lead-times brings cash.

X — Are you joking? The entire world heard about the « Just-in-time » rout.

Me — That’s what happens when Japanese engineers use a catchy name for a new concept : it was supposed to mean « at the right time, not before, not after ». In Toyota, everyone knows you can’t finish a car if you’re missing one piece. That’s the reason they started stockpiling chips when they understood - before everyone else - a shortage was coming. Only Tesla is trying some other way, selling car without the USB port.