Perusing emails, websites and conversations on Twitter the purported “lean thinking” crowd seems to be a contradiction of terms. I have been in emotional conversations with some of these folks that claim foul when I categorize them as “lean hornets.” Claims of “we really are about the thinking” is the feedback.

So, what is the big deal? Here is the rub. I like to view folks I encounter by what they do or claim to do. Most of these folks are posting to their blog . . . or when I visit their websites . . . or when I visit prospective customers that have worked with lean consultants about how they use tools (value stream maps, takt time, etc.) Someone has poisoned the water hole!

The classic came via email that I received from the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI). Here is what was written:

“Lean tools are important, but they can’t deliver sustainable results — and often can’t achieve any results — unless we use them with a lean state of mind in an environment that supports problem solving through experimentation by means of Plan-Do-Check-Act.”

Wow! A revelation has taken place, maybe this whole 2012 thing is for real. But wait a minute . . . scroll down further and you see mistake-proofing and value stream mapping workshops for healthcare!!!!?

I appreciate the affirmation that tools don’t deliver. But we need deeds, not words.

I’m sorry my friends, but it was W. Edwards Deming that told us that we have one shot to train people the right way. We have been wrongly led down the tool path by LEI. They may regret the path, but the familiar quack of this duck still rings.

Dr. Deming and Taiichi Ohno taught us a way of thinking and both warned against tools. I find it to be a form of copying. Three questions stand stalwart:

  1. Who invented the tool?
  2. What problem were they trying to solve?
  3. Do I have that problem?

I can taste the poison at this drinking hole . . . can you?

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Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public). His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work. Download free from “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected]. Reach him on Twitter at or LinkedIn at