Lean Love Advice: Part 1 of 4


By Mike Lopez

I've written about the four rules of Lean before. Earlier tonight, I was thinking about how they apply to marriage. To refresh those of you who have not read the Harvard Business Review article by Steve Spear and H. Kent Bowen, I will restate the rules here and share how I see them apply to relationships. This is the first in a four part series to apply each of the four rules.

Other posts in the Series:

  1. Lean Love Advice: Part 1 – This Post
  2. Lean Love Advice: Part 2
  3. Lean Love Advice: Part 3
  4. Lean Love Advice: Part 4

Welcome now to Lean Love Advice: Part 1

Rule 1: All work shall be highly specified as to content, sequence, timing, and outcome.

Rule 1 illustrates the importance of roles in a relationship. As men and women, we need to know how to behave in specific situations. Couples that establish specific roles within marriage are better able to deal with the challenges. In some cultures, men take the role of handling the family's external matters. They arrange for the children to marry. They typically bring in the food for the household. Women take care of the internal matters. They prepare the meals and raise the children. They direct the household. Together, the man and woman run a family that operates smoothly inside and outside the front door.

Men and women in our culture have evolved a different model through cultural enlightenment. The stereotypical gender roles have been changed to produce a model that shares internal and external duties between the male and female. This is an excellent and flexible model that allows for men and women to serve the family in the most effective ways. The only flaw is that men and women become confused with their family roles and responsibilities. With the added complexity of our flexible system, we have lost the ease of standard work.

Thankfully, getting back on track is easy. We don't need the traditional gender roles to move forward from where we are. We just need to work with our partner to establish standard work in the relationship. I don't think this means that only one person works or one person does the dishes. To me, establishing standard work means that one person takes the lead on every internal and external household issue. One person takes the lead so that if help is needed from both parties, the leader is responsible for obtaining the help. In our house, I take the lead on teaching the kids how to read. I take the lead on keeping the cars serviced. My wife takes the lead on making doctors appointments. She takes the lead on buying birthday presents. That doesn't mean I don't make a doctors appointment. Two days ago, I made a dentist appointment for us. As lead, she was the one who reminded me to make the appointment.

As followers of Rule 1, a couple will establish which person in the relationship will take the lead on each internal and external matter of the household. This is the most important step.

Additionally, couples need to establish standard operating procedures for how they will perform day to day activities. This includes activities like spending money, saving money, gift buying during birthdays and holidays. Every man knows that he is expected to perform a certain way on the wedding anniversary. That expectation is not confined to one day of the year though. Standard work should be defined for all expected behaviors. If the standard is that nothing is done, that is fine. As long as both parties agree to it up front, it is standard work.

Next: Rule 2 – Communication

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  1. What does that rule have to do with roles? Why can’t work be “highly specified”, yet without either member of the couple taking a lead on it?

    In lean teams at work, are tasks traditionally owned by individuals, or by teams? Serious question, I don’t know the answer, though I would have assumed the latter.

  2. That is a good point. When I have done lean events, we assign action items to individuals. The team might assist, but a single person is held accountable to get the job done.

  3. What you’re proposing sounds different from assigning action items to individuals, though, if I’m reading you correctly: I think of action items as a one time thing, while the examples you give (keeping the cars serviced, buying birthday presents) are ongoing. But maybe I’m not understanding your lean example?

    (And I realize that my use of “tasks” was vague in this regard, too.)

    The reason why I bring this up: I don’t have manufacturing experience, I work on software. But the lean-inspired software philosophies tend to discourage individual ownership of components of the software: they try to spread out knowledge and responsibility as broadly as possible. So I’m curious as to whether or not that goes against what most people would call lean, whether it’s a quirk of these software methodologies.

  4. I agree with David. Here is a link to the Spear article, Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System. The first principle, that all work should be highly specified is so that MULTIPLE people can do work the same way (standard work basically). I think it’s a bit off track to say “one person must be the lead.” Now maybe, in your example, that person is the owner of the standard work. But, a strong process is one that can be done the same way by others. Instead of “pay the bills,” there would be a defined and structured process written out and follow (and improved via kaizen).

    I love lean, but I don’t run my home that way.

    I think the idea that “something can only be done right and consistently if it’s done by the same person” isn’t quite a TPS concept.

  5. Mark and David,

    I see where you are coming from and I agree. The way you propose it sounds a lot more like Lean and it makes more sense. It would be better to have a process to do the bills that is followed. In my original post, following that logic would mean that if the “lead” was somehow incapacitated, none of their jobs would get done.

    I totally agree with you.


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