Just give me $20

Dating back to the 1950’s Lean has generated a long lore of stories in its wake. Most of them involve a Japanese sensei seeing things other have failed to see. They embody an aspect of Lean that is usually totally obscure for any traditional manager and particularly obvious for whoever has made the leap of faith into Lean.

Opening the chapter on « What Lean Leaders Do » in Art Byrne’s The Lean Turnaround, I found another gem.

Just give me $20, part of the Lean lore
Just give me $20, part of the Lean lore
Shuichi Kurosaka […] condutcted a « walk of shame » after one of the 4 p.m. leaders’ meetings. This was a big plant, so we had six teams with about 70 people on this walk. We had barely gotten started when Kurosaka-san pulled up the whole group in front of a big pile of WIP inventory. He then asked the plant manager, Bob Pugh, to give him $20. « What? » said Bob. « Just give me $20, » said Kurosaka. So Bob gave him $20, and Kurosaka stuck it on the big pile of inventory. He then turned to Bob and said, « Look, you are wasting the company’s money with all of this inventory, so you might as well waste some of your own as well. » He then turned to the rest of the group and said, « Let’s go. » Poor Bob was left standing there with his mouth open, knowing that he couldn’t go back and retrieve his $20. He just moved on with the rest of the group, but he got the message loud and clear and is still fond of telling this story.

We’re know about 30 years after the story. But I can still feel both the pain for Poor Bob and the sheer confidence glowing from Kurosaka-san. Both have acquired a quasi-mythical patina.

Off course, when I first read the book I was very much un-impressed : in the digital world, there’s no such thing as an inventory. Or so I thought. And then my very own sensei asked us to slash our backlog by at least a factor of 10. Which we did in about 18 months. It actually means we can choose the path we want to take on the spot. And stop drifting along the path that was envisaged months ago. Before the new Chief Engineer take-over. Before our biggest ever deal. Before a war broke in Ukraine.

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