Lean’s Tool age is approximately the period between 1990 and 2006 in which western companies discovering Lean first tried to copy-paste the Toyota Production System’s tools and methods.
Using these tools and methods brought nice successes, but kept inferior to Toyota’s and seldom sustainable.
Jim Womack was among the analysts discovering the true nature of Lean is not only a rich toolbox but a way to see, consider and think, which allow the proper and efficient use of the tools.
Recognizing the importance of the human factor, largely underestimated until recently, brought the age of Lean Management into the light. Lean Management is a profound understanding of the principles, which well applied, earn better and lasting results.
It’s easy afterwards to laugh at the initial blindness, thinking it was only a matter of tools and methods. Jim Womack’s experience, role and contribution to the (Lean) community allow him a gentle mock about companies still stuck in the tool age, encouraging them to step ahead into management age, as he does in this video.
Reflecting on tool age / management age, I wonder: wasn’t experimenting the tool age first necessary?
How would western Lean pioneer companies have reacted if they would have been told that the key to their future success lies in a new thinking way and the rigorous application of five or twelve principles, disrupting dominant industrial culture?
I assume no organization was ready to engage a Lean transformation journey without prior proof of concept, thus experimenting tools and methods.
Only after experimenting the potentials and the limits of the Lean tool age, organizations got ready to consider lean management age.
Still today, latecomers to Lean go through their own tool age, an understandable and respectable path I think, allowing testing by themselves, get some assurance before acknowledging to step further into Lean transformation.
Therefore I thing if tool age didn’t come first, Lean may not have caught attention and developed the way it did.