Trump, Jobs, and Lean Specialists

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This morning (May 25, 2016) I turned on Morning Joe for just a few minutes while eating breakfast, and learned (or was reminded of) some interesting things:

  • Donald Trump’s message is responding best with lower and middle-class white males. I knew this already.
  • A large percentage of this demographic has the feeling, not untrue, that the opportunities of the past in the United States are fading for them. For example, it used to be possible to make a good living with a factory job. Today, even if you can get one, not so much. Hence the Donald’s “Make American Great Again” slogan, with lots of nostalgia for the past.
  • Manufacturing employment in the US peaked in 1979.
  • The cost of a college education is prohibitive for most people, unless you take on a huge amount of debt. The job openings that are there, and there are still many, usually require a higher skill level than was needed in the past. A college degree today is equivalent to a high school degree in past generations.
  • One of the panelists on Morning Joe, Anand Giridharadas, had a comment. Go, he said, to Silicon Valley and ask the leading companies what they are working on. You’ll find that there is a massive effort underway to eliminate human jobs and replace them with software and robotics. Up to 80% of all existing jobs could be affected.

All of these observations seem at least possible. So, what to do, speaking personally? What can anyone, but especially Lean Specialists, do to respond to this upheaval?


Let’s set resistance aside as a response strategy. “Resistance is futile.” Historical examples of trying to confront technological change are abundant. One example that springs to mind is the Luddites of the 19th Century, who resisted the introduction of power looms in the mills of northern England.

Similarly, the coal mines in Appalachia will not be reopening. There are too many factors heading the opposite direction, including improved mining technology, cheap natural gas, and the pressing need to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Many coal miners are going to have to find new careers. Some factories may be coming back to the United States from overseas, but I fear that the horse has already left the barn on that front as well.

It will also be difficult (close to impossible, really) to convince the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley to discontinue their software and automation projects, because it might impact people’s jobs.

Can we really say that we should not improve our processes because improvement might hurt jobs? I don’t think so.


So if change is coming, as a threat or opportunity, what can you do to buffer yourself against its impact? Two strategies stand out.

First, if you are involved in process improvement as a Lean Specialist (or Six Sigma or with just plain common sense), make sure that you are adding massive value to your organization or clients. 5S projects are not going to cut it. Small Kaizen suggestions are not going to cut it. A study done in Japan at Toyota documented that 90% of the hard-dollar improvement benefits came from larger scale, engineering and management-driven initiatives, and not from the suggestion system. Reference Toyota Kata, page 178. In a manufacturing company, the biggest opportunities are typically in the areas of product design and engineering, manufacturing line design, and material management. Get good at these areas.

There is a science or a step-by-step processes that should be followed to design Lean lines/cells, or Lean material flow systems. There is lots of room for creativity, but you should follow a roadmap. Click here to view an example of a Line Design roadmap, and a summary of the steps involved.

Second, you’ll need to embrace technology and get really comfortable with it, if you’re not already. Lean Specialists who don’t have good technical skills are going to be at a huge disadvantage. Yes, I’ve heard that the Lean approach is more hands-on, less technical, do things manually and simply, etc. etc. What I have seen, however, is that the most successful Lean companies have also fully embraced technology. Toyota is an SAP user, and uses it to manage their Kanban system. Ford is using Virtual Reality design tools to develop new models. Again,Resistance Is Futile. And here’s how to address both needs in a single step.


A beautiful opportunity to both start adding massive value and add a technology skill to your Lean toolkit has arrived. On June 21-23 we will be teaching a 3-day workshop on Lean Simulation Modeling. In three days you’ll emerge as a simulation “Super User”, able to define data inputs deeply, build models (within limits), and interpret simulation results. And we give you the software to use in the class, and take back to your factory. Click here to find out more.

What does this discussion have to do with Donald Trump? Well, not much other than the notion that maybe Donald Trump is the canary in the coal mine, and that it’s time to take action.

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