John Seddon warns, “Watch Out for the Toolheads.” Ralph Keller, President of Assoc for Manufacturing Excellence claims Tools Are Necessary, but Not Sufficient. Bob Emiliani coined the term “Fake Lean” to describe the tool-based focus on continuous improvement that had become ubiquitous. In my study of Toyota and the work we do with design and construction firms, attention to lean tools is unavoidable. We can’t be lean by using the same ol’ tools in the same ol’ way.

Adopting new tools and using some of the old tools with a new emphasis is part of the process for transforming the way we deliver design and construction services. However, we must place our emphasis on the tool users rather than the tools themselves.

Toyota’s two pillars are “respect for people” and “continuous improvement.” But I see far too many firms and project teams focusing on using Last Planner® System without putting the pillars first. The same goes for all the attention given to kaizen blitzes/events/workshops. A few “experts” lead a week-long event that while it improves an underperforming process it doesn’t leave the organization with the new employee capability. Now don’t get me wrong, if a group is unable to improve their own processes, then for sure bring in experts to help. We’ve done a lot of that work in the last 10 years. However, we do it in a way that builds capability.

It will take you longer to improve the process while investing in staff. But that is one of the keys to “Real Lean”, as Emiliani says. Going slow to start will allow you to go fast later on.