I hear more people talking about how the word “implement,” as in the phrase “Lean implementation,” doesn’t really create the right imagery, as an implementation suggests there is an end or that the implementation can be completed.
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The word implement (as a verb) means:
4. to fulfill; perform; carry out:
Once in office, he failed to implement his campaign promises.
5. to put into effect according to or by means of a definite plan or procedure.
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I think “implement” implies an end… and the idea of a “definite plan” for a Lean implementation (a 5-year plan??) isn’t very realistic or practical either. Sure, we need a Plan, but we also Do, Study, and Adjust.
The word “transformation” gets used quite a bit, as in the “Lean transformation” of an organization. I recently enjoyed the annual Lean Healthcare Transformation Summit this month, but it made me wonder “what are we transforming?”
Does a “transformation” also have an end point? Is that the right phrase to suggest “a journey of continuous improvement?”
1. to change in form, appearance, or structure; metamorphose.
2. to change in condition, nature, or character; convert.
3. to change into another substance; transmute.
I guess part of the question is “to what degree” we transform? I think it means a pretty dramatic change and reinvention.
A metamorphosis can be defined as:
“a profound change in form from one stage to the next in the life history of an organism, as from the caterpillar to the pupa and from the pupa to the adult butterfly.”
Does a Lean transformation for an organization, or a leader’s transformation (as John Toussaint, MD has described about himself) mean something more like a metamorphosis, as from a caterpillar to a butterfly?
Should we be talking about “Lean Metamorphosis?”
Man, “Lean Transformation” sure is easier to spell.
One of the first books that I remember being about Lean as a business strategy (not just production tools) was Jeff Liker’s book Becoming Lean: Inside Stories of U.S. Manufacturers, that was published just after the famed Lean Thinking from Womack and Jones. Womack wrote the foreword for Liker’s book, actually.
Amazon reminds me I bought it in 1998:
The word “transformation” does get used within the book, eight times, including a reference to transforming Ford’s plants. Those plants are still probably transforming themselves today. Continuous improvement and reinvention, right?
Lean Thinking also uses the word “transform,” including a reference to the personal transformation of Pat Lancaster, then CEO of Lantech, as they tried to transform the company (listen to my recent podcast with his son and current CEO Jim Lancaster):
As I blogged about this year, it’s one thing to call yourself a “concrete head,” but I don’t think it helps to throw that term at others.
What are some other books that call for “transformation” through Lean? They include some great books:
- Lean Transformation: How to Change Your Business into a Lean Enterprise (Bruce Henderson, 1999)
- Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation (George Koenigsaecker, 2009)
- Andy & Me: Crisis & Transformation on the Lean Journey (Pascal Dennis, 2005)
- The Lean Manager: A Novel of Lean Transformation (Michael and Freddy Balle, 2009)
- The Toyota Way to Service Excellence: Lean Transformation in Service Organizations (Jeff Liker and Karyn Ross, 2016)
- Accelerating Health Care Transformation with Lean and Innovation: The Virginia Mason Experience (Paul Plsek, 2013)
The Lean methodology by no means has a monopoly on the word “transformation.” There are many books about “healthcare transformation.”
Isn’t that the point? Healthcare transformation? Organizational transformation? That’s the “end” (the goal, not the finish) — and Lean is just a means to that end, right?
That’s the other thing that the phrase “Lean transformation” makes me think about… are we leading with the solution, if not jumping to the solution?
Would we engage more executives if we talked about “business transformation” or “organizational transformation?”
I know some hospitals, even, that label their “Lean department,” if you will, as the “Office of Business Transformation” or something similar to that. I could see people in a health system not liking the word “business,” though.
Maybe “Office of System Transformation” might resonate more? Or is it still too buzzwordy?
Maybe the words, whatever they are, aren’t the bottleneck in the transformation or metamorphosis process?