Lean For Thought
Mark’s Note: I’m just getting back from vacation, so we’re wrapping up the guest posts. Today’s post is by Christina Kach and you can read her previous guest posts here. Check out her updated bio at the bottom of the post. I’m sure there will be a lot of good discussion on this post, so please add your thoughts…
I may never have been interested in Debate Club, but I appreciate a respectful and thoughtful discussion on topics whether it’s with likeminded people or people with different viewpoints who add a fresh perspective. There have been some thoughts on my mind lately from the world of Lean that I think could lead to some of that thoughtful discussion. Here’s what I’m thinking. And I don’t believe there are any right or wrong answers.
As Lean Practitioners, we can often be quick to criticize companies or departments with weak or misguided Lean programs. I offer this question: is it better to at least be trying to do Continuous Improvement work, or not bother unless it is planned out correctly?
We talk a big game about Gemba – but then pull everyone into a classroom to give them Lean education training. And training seems to be the least “continuous” thing in Continuous Improvement. We send people once and expect them to not just understand it but go back and apply.
Following on with the Gemba topic. I feel like “Going to Gemba” or “Gemba walks” isn’t quite enough. Going to observe and see is clearly fine. But we have to DO something as a result of these walks. Far too often we think going for a Gemba walk is enough, a check in the box that they did their duty. Is that mere presence enough; at least they are trying? But if it isn’t driving action to make things better, is it value added?
And back to training, how are we expecting our people (at all levels!) to be able to make cognizant choices for change without the proper knowledge of how to do it or what they should be looking for and how to get there. It’d be like asking someone to build you a coffee table, without any tools or blue prints.
We champion the small Kaizen type improvements. We know their benefit and worth to an organization, not to mention the impact to employee engagement. Yet, these smaller improvements get “acknowledged” in all hands meetings while the projects getting the fancy awards and nice off site dinners are the substantial big impact projects. Is this appropriate? Are we sending the right message, the reward match the accomplishment? Or, are we sending the wrong message that only big projects are important?
I’ve heard both sides of the terminology argument. We use these terms, “Lean” or “Work Place Organization(WPO)” to give structure to our Lean implementations. Or, conversely, maybe specific labels don’t matter and that isn’t what our focus should be. Focus is on the improvement work itself, not the label that’s used. The old “what’s in a name” argument a la Shakespeare… call it whatever you will, the concept is still the same.
A cornerstone of the Toyota Way and Continuous Improvement, standard work, explains how important it is for a clear outline of the desired work conditions and a way of making abnormalities obvious. We have standard checklists and process sheets. Yet, has anyone noticed, standard work changes from area to area or department to department? Standard work within one building may be edited multiple times over to fit “our” need. And isn’t that the same for Lean as a whole? Every company does the Lean “their” way. Even if it is as simple as just changing words (like Visualize instead of Define for example). Isn’t that breaking our own notion of standard work? We explain the importance in one way of, well if you switch departments, you will still understand how to operate. So, if I switch companies with their own Lean set up, that is okay? Should all companies be operating to the given set of Lean principles without the opportunity to tailor? That may be true, but should Lean within a company at least be standardized regardless of department?
Just some Lean For Thought…. Let me know what you think.