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The Lean Debate – A “Wicked Disease”

John Seddon, a British occupational psychologist, has been a lightning rod for Lean promoters (which he refers to as “tool-heads) over his criticism of Lean.

Seddon bases his own work on Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System that Lean is also based on.

Seddon argues that industrial processes don’t adapt well to the service sector, where standardization often gets in the way of meeting the need for a variety of approaches, calling Lean a “wicked disease.”

“Lean as ‘tools and projects’ appeals to managers,” writes Seddon in one of his newsletters. ”Managers think they know what their problems are and they think tools training and projects will be useful. Managers like the idea (promoted by the lean tool-heads) that services should be standardized (big mistake). If they do get improvement it is marginal, often they end up worse but they don’t know because they are still measuring the wrong things (lean tool-heads don’t question targets or activity measures for example, indeed they don’t question management philosophy).”

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