Peter Drucker’s impact on lean thinking

Posted on 25 Mar 2010 by The Manufacturer

Jon Miller of Gemba Research pulls out some of the visions of a lean leader...

The spring cleaning continues. My research library is an embarrassment of riches. Old notes and unfinished files hide in the shame of abundance. More the worse, no matter how much knowledge is shared its abundance only increases. Luckily our capacity to learn appears to be infinite within our lifetime. Today’s find is some scribbling on the lean legacy of writer, management consultant and social ecologist Peter Drucker. He wrote dozens of books and defined modern management. He was widely studied by the Japanese. His fingerprints on lean thinking are evident in more than a few places.

On purpose, the customer and value:

“What is our business? Who is our customer? What do our customers consider value?”

On speeding up value delivery versus reducing waste in processes:

“Do not believe that it is very much of an advance to do the unnecessary three times as fast.”

On a time-based strategy:

“Everything requires time. It is the only truly universal condition. All work takes place in time and uses us time. Yet most people take for granted this unique, irreplaceable, and necessary resource.”

On empowerment:

In his 1945 book Concept of the Corporation, a short study on General Motors, Drucker wrote about the need to empower workers and treat people as assets rather than just costs, originating the concept of human capital. Sadly, few who were not already convinced or culturally conditioned to value people’s capacity for ingenuity were convinced by his writing that this was fact.

On hoshin kanri:

The policy deployment practice of hoshin kanri was said to be the result of Japanese firms studying Peter Drucker’s Management by Objectives (MBO) and marrying it with what they had learned from Dr. Deming about quality improvement, namely the TQC approach. The fact that MBO did not have a long life in Western management may be linked to the fact that it lacked a self-correcting mechanism that is part of hoshin kanri: the PDCA cycle. In some ways PDCA is like a bit of viral DNA that invades the host’s genetic code and causes it to make improvements to itself. But I digress.

Seen and not seen:

After one becomes familiar with lean thinking it is very easy to dismiss it as too simplistic, as mere common sense. Yet it takes great sophistication like that possessed by Peter Drucker to make the complex simple. We not only lack the historical perspective of a century or half century ago when “management” was a new word and the concept in its infancy, but we even forget how we managed in the days before we learned about lean. Likewise a great deal of Peter Drucker’s lean legacy is unseen, uncredited, because on observing lean companies we find many “best practice” approaches such as “customer focus” which are seen as common knowledge today. Hopefully the profound but often unseen impact of Peter Drucker’s lean legacy will continue to be felt.

By Jon Miller of Gemba Research and Gemba Panta rei blog