In the blog tradition of “Top 10″ lists (and “do not say” lists, like this one from Time or this workplace list from CNN), I’m going to take a stab at a list of things that I hope Lean practitioners will avoid saying in 2010. With apologies to David Letterman…
1. “Let’s lean out that department.”
This phrase has long been the bane of a Lean Thinker’s existence. To “lean out” a place implies a few incorrect notions.
First, it implies that Lean is a process that you can complete. It sounds like a cliche’ at this point, but Lean is a journey, not a destination. Nobody ever has a waste-free process and Lean is an ongoing management philosophy, not a project to complete.
Secondly, the phrase implies that we can go “do Lean” for somebody. External forces, like a consultant (or, sigh, “sensei”) can play a role, such as teaching or coaching. To be most effective, the team members and leaders in that area must embrace and own the transition to Lean Thinking. It can’t be done “to” them or “for” them, it must be done “with” them.
I’d accept “lean is a journey” as a nominee phrase to consider avoiding, but I’ll probably keep seeing that one.
2. “We need to redeploy bodies.”
Redeploying people (or assigning them to another department or a new job) is definitely the preferred alternative to using Lean improvements to drive layoffs. “No layoffs due to Lean” policies are smart and admirable.
What I don’t like is the use of “bodies” or “heads” to describe our most valuable asset, our people. At least calling people “heads” implies that you expect them to think. But still, I think we can just call people “people.” Even seasoned Lean leaders,
3. “We need to hire a ‘sensei.'”
It’s better than saying “we need to hire some heads to help Lean out that department.” Let’s just call a consultant a consultant. Or, better yet, a “coach” or “advisor.” Sensei furthers this whole mystique about Lean, that Lean is complicated and foreign, when it’s really quite simple and should be accessible to all, not just senseis or “belts.”
Sensei is a Japanese word that doesn’t always have positive connotations. Quoting Wikipedia (sorry to be doing that):
“Sometimes enthusiastic supporters and admirers use it fawningly, as when addressing or talking about charismatic business, political, and spiritual leaders. Japanese speakers are particularly sensitive to this usage when it concerns members of an in-group who spontaneously associate or identify sensei with a particular person – many if not most Japanese speakers readily see this usage as indicative of adherents speaking of a charismatic spiritual or cult leader. When talking about such situations, Japanese speakers will sometimes use the term sarcastically to ridicule overblown adulation…”
Yes, I realize Jim Womack used the phrase “lean sensei” in Lean Thinking. I think it’s OK to question that at this point in our Lean progression. I mean no offense to the people who use this term, but I think it’s a bit overdone in the Lean world. Do organizations benefit from having a consultant, a coach, or advisor? Yes, absolutely. I, for one, will never hang the term “sensei” on myself. I had the job title of “Lean Expert” once, and that was bad enough.
4. “Our goal is to do XX kaizen events this year.”
That’s completely the wrong goal, the number of events. If this is pushed as the primary goal, it’s possible that you’ll get a certain number of easy events that don’t deliver much value. This is, at best, a secondary goal – with the primary goal being improvements in safety, quality, time, cost, and morale. Or better yet, the primary goal can be learning, as it is at Toyota, per David Meier.
5. “Lean says we should ____________ …”
Or, a variation in the form of a question, “What would Lean say about __________?
Lean is not a person, it is a set of principles. It shouldn’t even become a number of set-in-stone principles that are a replacement for thinking. We can learn from Lean principles, but we shouldn’t blindly copy or implement a Lean principle without thinking. I worked for one company in the 90’s that had gotten really excited about the supposed Lean principle of “Zero Inventories” (thanks, probably, due to book of the same title ). They cheerfully got rid of their finished goods inventory, only to find that their production lead times were too long and too highly variable for that to ever work. Blindly following a rule really hurt them and their customers.
“What would Lean say about our batch size?” Probably that it could be smaller than it is now, but we don’t know that as an off-hand answer. Rather than falling back on a role principle or a rule of thumb, it’s better to think through situations yourself or follow a number of Plan-Do-Check-Act cycles (or PDCA). There’s a reason some Toyota leaders call TPS the “Thinking Production System.”
6. How do I get my ___________s to buy in?
This expression is often used with: managers, front-line employees, physicians, executives, nurses, etc. Far too often, “How do I get my employees to buy in?” is hidden code for “How do I get my people to fall in line and do what I say?”
If we are expecting people to “buy” in, I’d argue that, as leaders, we must be “selling” Lean or other concepts. Lack of buy in means, at least, that people are engaged and thinking. If they have a reservation about Lean or a new process, take that concern seriously. It might not just be idle complaining.
I’m sure in my previous example, there was an employee or materials manager who thought “zero inventories” was a terrible idea. Was their concern viewed as “lack of buy in” to be mocked or ignored?
7. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
I don’t believe that statement. I think this phrase should be avoided and it certainly shouldn’t be attributed to Dr. W. Edwards Deming, as it often is mistakenly. Dr. Deming never said this and he, in fact, meant quite the opposite. Some of the most important factors in a system are very difficult, even impossible, to measure. That doesn’t mean you can’t try to manage them. John Hunter, friend and fellow blogger, has the definitive take definitive blog take on this here. Update: Bob Emiliani’s definitive academic article (referenced in his comment to this post) is here: WGMGM.pdf.
8, 9, and 10: “Let’s hansei about our yokoten over by the kamishibai board.”
I’m not opposed to all things or words of Japanese origin. Far from it. But I think the Lean movement has gotten a bit carried away in embracing Japanese words. Some of the most recent to enter the lexicon:
Hansei = reflection
Yokoten = horizontal spread of an idea in an organization, or “spread”
Kamishibai board = well, let’s let our friend and fellow blogger Jon Miller describe it. I have seen a kamishibai board in use, yes. It’s a great concept, just a mouthful to say.
Some Lean Japanese words are, as we say in Texas, “a cow that is already out of the barn.” I guess this means its too late to quit saying words like “kaizen” and “kanban” (although I’ve never understood why it’s so hard to get the cow back in the proverbial barn).
How do we get the cow to “buy in” and get back into the barn? The stupid cow “hates change,” I guess. Well, except for the change of leaving the barn to begin with. That’s another nominee phrase to avoid, “people hate change,” as I had written about here.
I try to write simply and directly. If we are working in an English-speaking environment, I think we should say:
“Let’s reflect about how to spread Lean over by the visual management board.”
I’m about ready to start making up Japanese terms. We need a term for “sustainment,” as much as we talk about the concept.
I think I heard somewhere that its called “Jasunbai.” Coincidentally, it’s pronounced just like the name of the Boston Red Sox New York Mets’ left fielder, Jason Bay. Makes it easy to remember and say, don’t you think? ;-) There’s a new term to DEFINITELY avoid in 2010.
What do you think? Am I wrong? Are there phrases and terms that I shouldn’t be so afraid of?? Are there terms you would put on your personal “stop saying” list to complement your “stop doing” list?
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please scroll down to post a comment. Click here to receive posts via email.
Coming Soon – The updated, expanded, and revised 3rd Edition of Mark Graban’s Shingo Research Award-Winning Book Lean Hospitals: Improving Quality, Patient Safety, and Employee Engagement. You can pre-order today, with shipping expected by June.