Don’t Copy: There Is No “Instant Pudding”
One of the things I get frustrated with is people who want to take shortcuts with Lean. There are some who are only interested in copying and taking the easy path to yummy Lean goodness. You see this in the various LinkedIn discussion groups, in the Lean Enterprise Institute forums, and sometimes in private emails I receive via the blog.
I’ll again fall back on the teachings of Dr. W. Edwards Deming who once said:
“There is no instant pudding.”
Yet so many people look for it… Mmmmm…. butterscotch pudding….
Honestly, have you had instant pudding (I’m not singling out Jell-O here, it could apply to any brand)? It’s faster… it’s easier to make… but it just doesn’t have the right consistency of real pudding. A few weeks ago, I tried making an instant version of a classic British custard… it just wasn’t the same as some real custard I had cooked from scratch.
By the way, here’s a nice Quality Progress article that elaborates on the theme: “Forget Silver Bullets And Instant Pudding.” With a longer version of the story:
A PERSON once wrote a letter to W. Edwards Deming and asked for the formula to quality improvement. The person offered to pay whatever price Deming required. This led to what has become one Deming’s most famous quotes: “There is no instant pudding.”1
I was so tempted to give that answer when I received an email last week asking about implementing Lean in hospital laboratories, asking for “best practices, proven tactics, etc.” I’m all for helping people, but it would have done no good for me to spoon feed him answers in a return email. I’m all for sharing, hell I’ve published articles and talked about this in my book Lean Hospitals: Improving Quality, Patient Safety, and Employee Satisfaction and there’s an archived webinar video of me talking about lean laboratories online.
Without going into too many details, part of my frustration with this person’s email was that they were working for a hospital where I had coached a laboratory through a lean transformation and he showed zero interest in learning about what was going on. He showed zero signs of having done any research… now that he’s at a new hospital, he came look for easy answers and best practices.
I’m not saying you have to completely reinvent the wheel. Yes, you can learn from other organizations, but you also have learn basic Lean principles and try to figure it out for yourself. You can be inspired by others, but you shouldn’t copy them.
My point is not to say “don’t email me to talk about Lean.” Nine times out of 10, I end up having a nice exchange with readers who email. What I’m requesting is that people not email me looking for cheap, easy answers and “proven best practices” that you can just jam into place. That doesn’t fly.
Changing to a related topic, I was co-presenting earlier this year with a person from ThedaCare and she didn’t cringe at all when I said that people should read the book On the Mend: Revolutionizing Healthcare to Save Lives and Transform the Industry, but they shouldn’t copy. I said:
“Learn from ThedaCare, but don’t copy them.”
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People often love to say “but we’re different” (as an excuse to not change, when it suits them) but yet they (generally) want to copy others. You can’t have it both ways. Yes, your organization is different… but not totally different. Hence, the middle ground between reinventing the wheel and blindly copying others. The sweet spot is in the middle, I’d argue.
There was one other specific example in a LinkedIn group (I’m going to spend less time reading these groups), where somebody from a hospital wrote a group asking for best practices for how to apply Lean to a physician credentialing process.
I wrote back to the group suggesting that the only effective thing would be for this person (at least as a start) to value stream map their own process, looking for waste and opportunities for improvement. You can’t go looking for tips and ideas if you don’t understand your own process first. The beauty of the Lean methodology is that the methods for analysis and observation so are basic and so powerful IF YOU APPLY THEM (sorry for shouting). Hospitals have been trying to copy best practices forever, before Lean came on the scene, and that clearly didn’t work.
She wrote back, in part, with her excuse for not doing that:
“…the credentialing person was thrown into the position with little knowledge and training, so we don’t even know if we’re on the right track, and didn’t want to recreate the wheel if someone was willing to share theirs. Thanks for the input though!”
OK, forget Lean — they have far deeper problems if they’re just throwing people into jobs without the right background AND they’re not training them properly.
They don’t know if they’re on the right track? There’s an easy answer to that one: clearly not.
Again, they shouldn’t have to “recreate the wheel” but it comes across as an excuse to be lazy.
Too harsh? What do you think? What do you see going on out there, in your organization or others?
Do you like instant pudding better than the stuff you cook (or make from scratch)??
Maybe we should make a parody audio, with Mike Micklewright, of a fake Dr. Deming’s Instant Pudding commercial?