Researching “Lean”

It is fall, and with fall comes the annual spate of postings on various discussion boards by advanced degree students working on papers and dissertations about “lean.”

In these postings, most of them are using some kind of survey instrument, and many of them are multiple choice. The latest one I have asks questions around which tools have been implemented, what kind of results they have achieved, etc, etc. It is fairly typical.

What I find a little disconcerting is that it is evident from the survey content that many of these people have no idea at all what they are researching. They haven’t done a literature search. They aren’t up to speed on breakthrough material – even the stuff that is 10 years old. The research topics themselves are often “old stuff” that is well understood and well established out there.

More disconcerting, I suppose, is that it also seems that there is a large body of people who think that having a survey filled out by a population of unknown self-selecting people who happen to read an online forum with the world “lean” in it somehow equates to surveying experienced experts.

I don’t want to get too down on academia. We practitioners need them. Academics take their very capable and sharp tools, ask tough questions, and publish all kinds of great reference material that helps the rest of us understand things we wouldn’t otherwise.

BUT the meaningful research all has one thing in common – it is based on actual boots-on-the-ground field work. The data is gathered by physical observation, not just asking people what they think.

This is true to the spirit of genchi genbutsu – “Go and see for yourself” which, in the Toyota culture at least, is the only way to have credibility that you know what you are talking about.

2 Replies to “Researching “Lean””

  1. Excellent point here. I agree with you.

    What do you think can be done about this Lean survey situation?

    Select only one answer:

    A. Encourage the Lean educators to require physical observations for assignments and papers.

    B. Answer their surveys with creative insights that direct them away from the “Lean as a tool kit” mentality.

    C. Stop considering ourselves “experts”.

    D. All of the above.


  2. I do ‘B’ and encourage people to get out there and really understand what it is about.

    I also point them to quality academic work so that they have an opportunity to understand how to sort out the good from the bad. It is unfortunate that, in this field at least, “peer review” really doesn’t work very well, probably because there is no generally accepted theoretical base from which to operate.

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