The fundamental concepts of lean are designed for free, democratic markets. The lean focus on creating value for the customer assumes that customers have the right to define value, and that customers have the ability to choose among competing products.
In a dictatorship, the government may limit the products available and not be concerned with what the customer would view as valuable. The results include inefficient operations, unpopular products of low quality, and unhappy citizens – conditions that, in my view, cause citizens to view the government as illegitimate and may ultimately lead to its downfall.
These thoughts are prompted by an article in The New York Times profiling the Avtovaz auto plant in Tolyatti, Russia – which the article, written by Andrew Kramer, describes as “one of the least efficient automobile factories anywhere in the world — each worker produces, on average, eight cars a year, compared with 36 cars a year at General Motors’ assembly line in Bowling Green, Ky., for example.”
The cars made at the factory are inexpensive, but quality is poor and style hasn’t changed much in 40 years.
Russian leaders are not concerned with inefficiency.
The government is giving Avtovaz billions of dollars in aid, no strings attached. No chief executive firings. No renegotiation of workers’ contracts. No demands to turn out better-quality cars, much less fuel-efficient hybrid cars. (The first car with an airbag was introduced here in 2005.)
But the auto bailout, Russian style, is intended more to ensure peace in the streets than restructure a business, much to the lament of some critics who think tough love might be better.
“The key issue is too much government protection,” Yegor T. Gaidar, a former prime minister, said. “The factory will create as many problems for the Russian economy as General Motors for the States.”
So they are providing bailout money to preserve jobs, imposing a tariff on imported cars and even subsidizing auto loans to stimulate demand. (The tariff set off protests and a police crackdown in
Change will not come easily, and will undoubtedly involve considerable upheaval in government and the economy. It will also require massive societal culture change, in the way people think about their country, their government and the world of business.
That last area will require lean thinking. I hope change does come, and I hope lean can play a small part in making it happen.