Psychological Barriers to Lean Initiatives?

Chris Ortiz has published many books on kaizen and its benefits, but his recent book -- The Psychology of Lean Improvements: Why Organizations Must Overcome Resistance and Change the Culture -- covers an entirely different area of Lean initiatives: the psychology behind why businesses avoid Lean transformations. I recently spoke to Chris and asked him, "Why are there psychological barriers to Lean initiatives?" Here is his insightful response:

Change is never easy. Even in micro-amounts, we as humans avoid change. Even though positive transformation can result, changing paradigm, breaking old habits, and discarding established routines can be tough transitions for anyone, management included. Resistance to change will come in a variety of forms and we as consultants can see it at all levels.

You can sense the anxiety in people when their work area is being changed and more severally when there is no real reason why (or at least in their minds). Front-line workers may or may not see Lean as “leaning people out.” Improved productivity and reduced cycle times may be perceived as less work, and then less jobs. Unless the company is nearing complete bankruptcy, Lean is not intended to eliminate jobs.

One psychological barrier is the concept of victimizing. Victimizing is the sense people have that the company is reducing waste with no real reason. It almost borders on a feeling of being personally attacked. People become very attached to their space and oddly enough, to things they don’t own. There is sense of oneness with the means at their disposal. Often it is the only place at work they feel they have control over. As the team is sorting tools and removing what is deemed unnecessary, I often hear from resistant workers, "What are YOU going to do with MY tools?" This is a good example of what you will have to deal with. People often find something "negative" or out of place to recognize and not the effective aspects.

This is just part of the resistance to change even if it does not involve the person making the comment. Fear of change. We all have it. We all deal with it differently. Some of us accept change immediately, some take a little time, others never get there.

What do you think of Chris' thoughts? Does his summation reflect your experiences? How have you overcome the resistance to improvement? Lean has been labeled "anti-intuitive" -- Is that a strong factor that leads to resistance?


The Self-Balancing Line Method -- The "What" and "Why"

I met Gordon Ghirann about five years at an Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) conference. At that time, he was giving a presentation at the conference about the benefits of "Self-Balancing" line method. Now, in 2012, he has published a book on the method titled The Basics of Self-Balancing Processes: True Lean Continuous Flow.

I recently spoke with Gordon about this method and asked him quite plainly: "Why should the 'self-balancing' method be implemented at manufacturing organizations?" Here is his response:

First, it is quick to implement and very flexible. This is important if you are in a start-up mode and/or having frequent changes to your processes. The laborious task of trying to exactly divide the work content evenly is eliminated. With Self-Balancing, adding or removing work content does not cause your line to go out of balance, nor does adding or removing operators.

Second, even if your line is fairly stable, Self-Balancing has consistently been over 30% more productive than traditional line-balancing methods. This occurs mainly because all operators are allowed to work to their full potential (with all their natural variances), and the wasteful process of repeatedly setting the unit down between operators (only to pick it up later) is eliminated. The hand offs between operators with Self-Balancing promotes teamwork and communication, as well as breaking up the dehumanizing and repetitive work normally associated with assembly lines.

Finally -- but there are many more -- you should implement Self-Balancing because it works. Whether it is an assembly line, service operation, or moving anything one piece at a time between people... it works, Traditional line balancing has many flaws, and is not designed to create continuous flow; never has, never will. Self-Balancing was developed to create flow. It has a bias for flow. Anything short of that is not Self-Balancing, and seeing true continuous flow for the first time is a beautiful (and nearly perfect) thing. It's what you have been waiting for.

What do you think of Gordon's remarks? I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who has used the Self-Balancing process and whether it has produced greater results than other line-balancing methods. How has it affected inventory and variation?