Lean Lesson: Don’t Get Crushed Because of Bad Standardized Work
There are variations out there of graphics that are meant to illustrate how Standardized Work and Kaizen fit together. Kaizen is often articulated or illustrated in terms of “Plan Do Check Act” (PDCA) or “Plan Do Study Adjust” (PDSA) or whatever variation.
Before getting to the images (or “visuals” as some call them), let's talk about this more in concept — and maybe that illustrated how illustrations are needed or helpful?
The one notion is that Kaizen means progress… moving forward and bettering our performance. We might think of that as going up.
Then, many say that there's a natural risk of backsliding… performance drops, maybe that's because people go back to their old ways.
I think there are important questions of engagement and change management that often go unillustrated. If a Kaizen-based improvement is truly a “change for the better,” why would people go back to their old ways? Maybe they go back because they aren't committed to the changes or the new way, and maybe the root of that is a lack of involvement and engagement.
I don't know if “laws of entropy” really apply in the workplace. Blaming physical chemistry (and “laws”) seems to deflect attention (or blame) from our role as leaders or change agents.
I believe strongly that if we properly engage people in creating changes that are truly for the better, then backsliding is NOT inevitable.
Do we need to keep improving? Of course.
So, if you believe that backsliding is natural and inevitable (or if you blame workers for not buying into your change), then “standardized work” is often suggested as the way to “lock in” changes — to prevent backsliding.
I believe very strongly that Lean is not about forcing people to follow procedures and standardized work. We have to make sure that it's the right standardized work and that it's easy to do things the right way.
So, anyway, on to the graphics.
We usually see some sort of disc or sphere that we're trying to get up a hill. These are usually two-dimensional drawings, but there's something round-ish that we need to get uphill.
When I say “round-ish” there is a Lean Enterprise Institute graphic that shows a rock. It looks like a John Shook graphic that might have origins from Toyota:
Maybe surprisingly, that image looks like a safety and ergonomics nightmare — an injury waiting to happen!
We can't have that (and LEI and Toyota wouldn't want injuries), so people started illustrating standardized work as a “wedge” that locks in improvements. Sometimes, the wedge is labeled as something like “Lean Management System” (it's a versatile illustration, apparently).
The wedge is whatever you want it to be?
The wedge does the work formerly done by a person (except here)… it seems safer (or it's supposed to be) and it might be drawn like this (and the circle might be split into four equal quadrants of PDSA… which might also not be correct, but I'll blog about that later).
The wedge is probably poorly designed if a person has to hold it up, but I've seen it drawn that way. More on this later in the post.
Mike Rother has asked if it's “time to retire the wedge?,” as Mark Rosenthal blogged about here.
See Mike's slides about this via SlideShare:
Mike says, in a slide, that Toyota wouldn't blame a worker for some appearance of backsliding, which I appreciate. Instead of not “slipping back,” we should continue moving forward. Let's not keep things static… I agree!
Back to wedges… I've seen some that are drawn like this:
I don't understand the physics of that one at all. Is that wedge really wedged into the ramp or the mountain that the boulder is sitting on? That stick figure looks a bit concerned perhaps. Maybe he has a hammer to really pound in that wedge.
That looks perilous!
Maybe I'm obsessing over the wrong thing… but if we're going to use illustrations, we should make sure the physics are sound.
Some wedges are drawn like this:
Maybe that wedge from the previous drawing has fallen… what's holding up that round rock?
This seems like an “Oh No, Lean Leaper!” moment, ala Mr. Bill. The drawing is NOT the LEI “Lean Leaper,” which is a trademarked character. This is just his — or her — cousin.
This is why we don't want backsliding? That is dangerous too!
And then we would get this:
Our standardized work metaphor has gotten really grim.
Some illustrations look like the one below… which might seem like less of a death trap:
I'm an engineer, so I'm bound to think about “failure modes” — what about a strong breeze? How low is the coefficient of friction on our wedge?
We know how that story ends (unless the boulder flies over Mr. Lean Leaper).
So, here's the moral to the Lean story:
Backsliding might not hurt us if we duck?
Maybe the wedge needs to have a better shape:
I've seen some drawn like that (Mike Rother's first slide has that version). Maybe that's better. But, perhaps a strong breeze launches it up and over Mr. Leaper? How heavy is the boulder?
I'm with Mike Rother, instead of getting the right wedge, let's retire the wedge… and not just because of the physics involved.