Through our practice of Lean, we're looking at processes and our management system, looking to identify waste and opportunities for improvement.
Lean is about engaging people to have them ask why we do things a certain way or if things could be better (it's not about finding fault from on high and telling them what to do).
The answer to why we do something a certain way is often:
“We've always done it that way.”
Frontline staff often say that. Mangers and executives say it.
The fact we've always done something that way doesn't automatically mean it's a bad practice. But, we should be willing to challenge things to figure out if we should reinvent that process or tweak it. The same question applies not just to the value-adding frontline work, but also to management practices.
Asking why is a powerful Lean practice.
Why do we spend a ton of time on annual budgeting? We've always done it that way?
Some organizations challenge that, via the “Beyond Budgeting” movement.
Why do hospitals so easily send nurses home early when census is low? We've always done it that way?
Some organizations challenge that, choosing to engage staff in daily continuous improvement, as paying people to work on improvement can save more money than strictly focusing on reducing labor costs.
As an organization embraces Lean (or as an industry has seen widespread adoption), it's easy for aspects of Lean to become the new “way we've always done it.”
There are some Lean practices that almost become dogma.
I hear it more in manufacturing, but some people advise, in a quite prescriptive way:
“Always start with 5S”
There are plenty of references to this phrase online.
I think a statement like that should really become a question:
“Always start with 5S?”
If somebody makes an absolute statement (look for the words “never” and “always”), you should be able to ask “why?” Why start with 5S?
If the answer is “well, I've always done it that way” or “my sensei taught me that,” we should be willing to challenge the way it's always been done (even if “always” is just a few years).
There might be a good reason why somebody suggests to start with 5S. I wouldn't say “never start with 5S.” 5S can be helpful. But, I think we should be focused less on the question of “what tool should I start with?” and more on the question of what problem we're looking to solve.
I wrote about this a few years back:
Taiichi Ohno, credited as a creator of the Toyota Production System, said simply in a book:
John Shook, of the Lean Enterprise Institute, asks:
See more about John and the LEI Lean Transformation Model.
Am I being too dogmatic in saying “always start by asking ‘what problem are we trying to solve?'” Maybe.
Either way, if “the way we've always done Lean” is becoming rigid or is no longer helping, we need to ask why… we need to improve. There's a reason Toyota people call TPS the “Thinking Production System.”
We should be thinking. Asking “why?” Challenging things… not just accepting dogma.
Do you see other examples of “Lean dogma” or “the way we've always done Lean” that could be questioned?