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Process does NOT restrict creativity

Seth Godin’s blog talks about why people hate process. He is, rightly so, challenging people’s apparently inherent fear of process. Of course, without process, lean isn’t very effective. People like to think that if you force me into a process, I can’t be creative. That’s bull. You can’t be creative without process. You can’t be creative in chaos.

Why do people fight standardization, establishing high agreement and having a common process to work from? What are your stories?

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Jamie Flinchbaugh is a lean advisor, speaker, and author. In addition to co-founding the Lean Learning Center, he has helped build nearly 20 companies as either a co-founder, board member, advisor, or angel investor. These companies range from high-performance motorcycles to SaaS tools for continuous improvement. He has advised over 300 companies around the world in lean transformation, including Intel, Harley-Davidson, Crayola, BMW, and Amazon. Jamie co-authored the popular book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean, and continues to share his experiences as a Contributing Editor forIndustryWeek and as a blogger at He holds degrees from Lehigh University, University of Michigan, and MIT, and continues to teach and mentor on campus. Jamie is best known for helping to transform how we think about lean from a tools-centric model to one based on principles and behaviors. His passion for lean transformation comes from seeking to unlock the great potential that people possess to build inspiring organizations.

  1. Mark Graban says

    A few thoughts….

    1) We have to make sure, when we do lean, that “standard” doesn’t mean “forever”. We have to teach people the Toyota mindset of standard work being the basis for kaizen. Without standardization, you have chaos (you’re right on that Jamie), and it’s hard to make improvements in the face of chaos.

    2) I think a lot of people take pride in the idea that nobody ever trained them (because there was no standard method) and they figured it out themselves. So, they hold to the method they figured out because they have pride in it. When you’re trying to standardize, you have to make sure people are creating their own standard work and having input to the process, so they can have pride in the new standard way. Sure, everyone might have to compromise a little, but you can sell them on the benefits of standardization.

    3) People like being heroes, oftentimes. With good process, errors or bad situations are prevented, and people get fewer opportunities to save the day.

  2. Katherine Radeka says

    Creative types fear process standardization because they don’t distinguish between necessary and useful variation, and wasteful variation in the creative process.

    Unfortunately, many Six Sigma Black Belts and other process aficionados don’t understand this distinction, either.

    Useful variation is producing multiple sketches of a design concept in the early phases of development so that the team can test out their varying ideas.

    Wasteful variation is having every team create its own team website with information organized in a way that is unique to the team – and difficult for anyone else to dicipher.

    In the design phases of development, we want to minimize the wasteful variation so that we can put more energy into useful variation that leads to new ideas.

    When we “sell” process standardization to engineers, designers and other innovative types, I think we need to enlist their help to identify the useful variation that our process must preserve – and the wasteful variation that sucks time and energy away from the team’s ability to deliver great products,

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