It’s not about the people, it’s about the process

As we teach in our Lean Marketing Workshops, lack of results is usually a failure of process not people. Deming reported that fact many years ago.

We have been reading Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, & Total Nonsense and found the authors have identified additional research that further supports this truth. One example they cite is the old General Motors plant in Fremont, CA.

That plant was closed in 1982 because it was one of the worst GM plants in the country as measured by defects per car built and cost per car built. The plant also suffered from wildcat strikes and “rampant drug and alcohol abuse.” The plant was re-opened in 1985 as a joint venture between GM and Toyota, but it instituted the Toyota Production System (called Lean Manufacturing or Lean Thinking outside of Toyota).

85% of the initial workforce consisted of rehired former GM employees. The first year the plant produced cars, its output was among the highest quality and lowest cost cars produced in any plant in the U.S. Same people, new process, better results.

And least our senior management readers get too smug, the authors also note that Toyota is the ONLY automobile company where changing the CEO has had NO impact on company performance. In other words, the processes the company uses are so robust, there is little noticeable effect on the company due to any single person change … even the CEO.

They just keep relentlessly moving to #1 in revenue and profit.


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4 Responses to It’s not about the people, it’s about the process

  1. Mark Graban says:

    I’ve heard the 85% number before, but a friend recently shared another eye opener. What percentage of the managers or supervisors at the newly-opened NUMMI were holdovers?


    I had an amazing plant manager at GM (1996), who was trained at NUMMI. He came in and told all of our employees, salaried and union, that the problem was not the people, it was the management system.

    Even with the low trust starting point, that facility made major improvements in just a few years time.

    We really do undervalue process in this country, overvaluing the “heroic leaders” at all levels.

  2. duple says:

    duple says : I absolutely agree with this !

  3. Attaulla Khan says:

    I have clsoe to 10 years of non-profit experience at the Board/Exec level and I have come to believe that it is the “right people” that always matter. The right people will come up with the “right processes” and find innovative ways to implement these processes. Without the right people, no amount of process re-engineering can help.

    • With all respect as your experience is what it is, Deming demonstrated long ago that the path to improved performance was not changing people but rather improving the processes the people were forced to work in. While some people have the power and ability to modify and improve the processes they use, most do not, and without improved processes those people cannot be as good as they could be,

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