WOSWaiting on Superman is a fascinating documentary critiquing America’s educational system which has become so large and complex that it no longer meets the needs of the end customer, the student. The primary goal of educating our children is lost in a labyrinth of special interests and political maneuvering.

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim undertakes an exhaustive review of public education, surveying “drop-out factories” and “academic sinkholes” while following several students journey to a charter school. The film dispels much of the conventional (stereotypical) logic that children from low-income neighborhoods don’t want to learn. Another myth is that low performing or just plain bad educators are removed from the system. The reference to “Superman” describes educators Geoffrey Canada realization that there isn’t just one person powerful enough to save the system. Superman was fictional so you will wait forever if that was your plan.

As a Lean Practitioner I’m constantly mixing life, science and art. This documentary reminded me so much of lean programs past, present and possibly future. The parallels of systems and bureaucracies becoming so large and complex they lose focus and no longer function effectively. Lean in many organizations has become the “product” rather than the “tool”. Participation in value streams, kaizen events and other similar type programs have become mandatory in many companies. Rather than true problem solving of relevant issues practitioners look for “projects” to become lean certified or re-certified. Hence the tool is becoming the product rather than the tool enhancing the product.

This is where I had an epiphany … are serial quality programs organizations attempt to search for Superman! That fictional character or system that will save them from themselves!

Perfect quality, seamless linkage and flow along with world-class customer service and products are not results of complex and conflicting bureaucracies. According to Deming “A bad system, will defeat a good person, every time.”

Take heart Lean Soldier it isn’t all doom and gloom. Just as the documentary suggests there is hope in education and I’m sure lean manufacturing as well. But we might need to redirect the tools of quality to the process. Not the process of manufacturing but the process of managing the process if that makes sense. Maybe we should create “Charter” manufacturing cells detached from the beast or mother ship.

What are your thoughts?

One parting question “Is you’re a lean program more of a product or a tool of your organization? “  In other words do you use lean tools to solve problems or find problems to use lean tools.

Thanks and enjoy your Lean Journey it never ends!

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