As we come to the end of 2002, I wanted to reflect briefly on the state of our Lean Community and to thank you for your continued support.
As I’ve noted before with some sadness, economic distress is good for lean thinking. Taiichi Ohno said long ago that most companies are only willing to tackle their version of the Toyota Production System when they are desperate. And we’ve had plenty of desperation this past year.
It’s hard to know where average practice stands, but the indicators we do have available suggest that lean thinking continues to push ahead. Inventory turns across the American economy dipped in 2001 (as they always do in economic downturns) but are climbing again in 2002 and membership in our web-based Lean Community continues to climb steadily month after month.
We also know that lean thinking is spreading across the world. This summer, when Dan Jones, Jose Ferro, and I visited India for the first Lean Summits, we were amazed to find some of the leanest operating practices we have ever encountered outside of Toyota City. And when I attended Lean Institute Brasil’s Summit 2002 this fall, I was amazed both at the size of the audience and at the level of sophistication among firms who had never heard of lean thinking only five years ago when Jose started the Institute. Also this fall, Dan has gotten a wonderful response to his launch of the Lean Enterprise Academy in the UK, which offers workshops and training for Lean Thinkers in English-speaking Europe.
Earlier this year I contacted our community across the world, asking who might be willing to come forward to establish non-profit institutes to serve other regions and languages and we received an overwhelming response. Jose, our “foreign minister” in the lean movement, has traveled extensively this year to fifteen countries to visit many of those who came forward, and we anticipate a steady expansion of the lean network in the years ahead.
On a personal level, the great joy of my job is that I hear from so many Lean Thinkers across the world about their challenges and their successes. In a time when there seems to be so much conflict in global society, it is truly a source of hope that so many of us, from so many different backgrounds and regions, have chosen to think lean thoughts together and to take action on our convictions.