Misguided Pragmatism and Its Impact on Lean

I recently had a conversation with John W. Davis, author of Progressive Kaizen:: The Key to Gaining a Global Competitive Advantage and president of WFM Associates, and he discussed what he call "misguided pragmatism" in regard to Lean initiatives in US companies. I asked him to elaborate and here was his response:

It has been well over a decade since US industry was introduced to the Toyota Production System (TPS). During the same period, US manufacturing has gone through the greatest surge of plant closings and layoffs since the Great Depression - and the trend seems far from over. At first glance, this would serve to leave the impression that Lean Production has not been the panacea it was touted to be. But is the culprit Lean itself or how US industry typically aligns itself to the task?

That is a question that has and will continue to be explored in corporate offices and boardrooms across America. But to do the matter justice, the issue of conventional mindset and its impact simply cannot be ignored. Misguided pragmatism comes to bear when management accepts the need for change, but holds strong proclivities related to the way business has always been conducted. Coupling this with pragmatism surrounding the value of the change itself and the result will always be a restriction in the depth of Lean implementation pursued.

If the ultimate mission, assumed or otherwise, is to implement some of the tools of TPS, efforts will be applied at inserting various levels of Kanban, SMED, Poka-Yoke, etc. On the other hand, if the mission is aimed at fully and irreversibly changing the system of production (and is clearly understood as such by all concerned), strong efforts in achieving that goal can occur. The driving objective has to be more than making incremental improvement to an old and cumbersome system of production. It has to be aimed at establishing a mindset that a full and complete change to the system of production is absolutely crucial. If that one point is effectively understood, everything else will tend to fall in place.

What do you think of John's opinion? Do you feel that Lean initiatives have the tendency to merely "shine and polish" an outdated system instead of creating a transformation?


Lean for the Public Sector

I recently spoke with Bert Teeuwen who has spent 12 years as trainer, coach, and implementer of Lean in both industrial and public environment and currently serves as a consultant with the WagenaarHoes organization. He recently published a book titled Lean for the Public Sector: The Pursuit of Perfection in Government Services.

I asked Bert: "The title of your book suggests that processes in government are so unique they demand a specific Lean method to improve them. Why are these particular methods needed?" Bert's reply was quite interesting:

Most books about Lean are written with industry in mind. All the examples are about machines and installations. Some books are about Lean in the office, but civil servants are not impressed by all these examples from businesses. Public servants want to read a book about Lean when it contains examples from their own working environment.

The main reason, however, is that Lean in the public sector is indeed different! Organizations in the public sector function on a non-profit basis, so what should they do with the time or money earned with Lean? Another point is that considering a citizen as a customer is not always correct. Citizens are customers sometimes, but often they are subjects, voters, taxpayers, and users. When a parking guard or a policeman gives you a bill for incorrectly parking your car. Are you his customer? Are you in the position to say no and go to a competitor? In addition, consider the application for a building permit. As far as the applicants are concerned, they can build perfectly without that permit. But the permit was not created to solely serve the applicants but, for example, to protect their neighbors against excessive and intruding extensions to the applicants' houses. There is a different discussion about who is adding value to whom in the public sector.

And what about the pull principle? What is pull in the public sector? Is pull in the public sector always better? No, sometimes push is better, because the government has a duty to provide certain services for its citizens, even when they don't ask for it.

What are your thoughts about Bert's reply? What do see as the particular needs of the public sector in regard to Lean initiatives?


Receiving Effective Feedback

I recently had a conversation with change management expert Rick Maurer, who recently published a second edition of his best-selling book, Feedback Toolkit: 16 Tools for Better Communication in the Workplace. While we agreed that feedback is essential at work, I stated that many would say that they don’t receive effective feedback. I asked Rick to offer his opinion on why many employees feel this way. Here is his response:

"Feedback can mess with our self-image. In spite of what we say, most of us don’t want people telling us that we fell short or are doing something the wrong way. So, we set up mechanisms to protect ourselves from hearing anything that might disrupt our fragile view of who we are. For example, we surround ourselves with the proverbial yes-men and yes-women or we send mixed messages. The movie model, Samuel Goldwyn, once said 'I want people to tell me the truth, even if it costs them their jobs.' Wise employees understood which part of the message to heed.

If we want a workplace where colleagues give us feedback, then we must do things that assure people we truly want to hear from them. Here are a few points to consider:

  • Only ask for feedback if you are willing to hear what others have to say. Otherwise, you are setting them and yourself up for a very uncomfortable exchange.
  • The only appropriate response to feedback is 'thank you.' Of course you can ask questions of clarification, but don’t make excuses or explain your reasons for doing something.
  • Make it easy for others to give you feedback. Jack was a client of mine who asked people to anonymously write reactions to a new management initiative on index cards and submit them to his secretary. At the all-hands meeting, he first said 'thank you.' And then he picked up that large stack of cards and responded to questions and comments. He did not defend himself. He took responsibility for his actions and decisions, and used their feedback to engage them in a conversation about what comes next.
  • Jack found a way that made it easy for him to take in what others had to say. Note that he did not ask for comments during the meeting. He knew that he might hear something that would cause him to go ballistic, and that would end the meeting. . Getting comments before the meeting gave him time to react privately before he met with the team."

What are your thoughts on Rick's comments? Does your workplace environment foster true communication or is it merely an exercise?


The 2011 Lean and Six Sigma Conference

I recently received a brochure for the upcoming 2011 Lean and Six Sigma Conference in Phoenix at the end of February, and I am quite impressed with its program. The application of Lean techniques to nontraditional industries, such as health care, and to different areas within an organization away from the shop floor, such as administration and product development, has proliferated within the past 10 years -- It's great to see this conference reflect that. I'm glad to see more presentations focusing on creating Lean culture as opposed to strictly applying tools as well. In addition, such Productivity Press authors as John Casey, Robert Damelio, Mike Osterling, and Karen Martin lead sessions while Adil Dalal delivers a keynote address.

Other than learning about successful applications and case studies, attendees also have numerous opportunities to network with the veterans who have lead or participated in transformations. These informal one-on-one, side conversations often prove invaluable to those just beginning the Lean journey.