Lean, Philosophy

Lean & Minimalism

CA Beach 2014 - oct copy

Minimalism is a concept that has taken like wild fire, from minimal lifestyles to shoes to wardrobes, the term proliferates the web.  I first learned of Minimalism from Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus from the blog The Minimalists.  I, having studied Buddhism and in particular Zen, was intrigued by the site initially only to find my self returning daily for more.  The concept, Minimalism, was new to me but, deep down it wasn’t.  My years of Eastern study had ingrained the concept within me but, was being buried by my Western consumerism.  Their story changed things for me.

I no longer looked at “my stuff” as treasures but, as functional items.  I began to pick random items up and ask, “do you belong here?”.  I found myself putting items aside to test whether it had a need in my life.  Eventually, I realized I had a lot of things sitting aside but, now they had congregated together for nearly three years and hadn’t moved.  The concept, so appealing as it is, was met with such resistance that I never committed and continued to accumulate “stuff”.

Lean seems to suffer a similar fate many times.  I have seen too many deployments met with the same enthusiasm only to end up in the same spot at the end of the year.  There is resistance and not enough force [commitment] to push through the “what if’s” and just flipping do it.  I am currently watching this happen and have no ability to help, which annoys the shit out of me.  Some people just don’t get it!

I’ve been contemplating the whole “deployment” subject and how to make the transition into a Lean environment more palatable.  The concept, introduced to me by Joshua and Ryan, better known as Minimalism is where I need to start.

Take a fresh deployment, you start off by training and moving into 5S and creating value stream maps and then coming up with kaizen events to hold and then you can start using all these cool tools you were trained about initially.  No one ever bothers to ask, “Do you really know how to use the tools in your tool box?”  “When to use them?”  How to match tools together to create a tag team like Shaq & Kobe?”  That is stuff only a few can answer.  There are few if any on hand during an initial deployment that can answer those questions.  Good Practitioners take for granted that the masses will understand the depth and meaning of Lean.

Lean, like Ulysses or Shakespeare, cannot be understood fully (let alone mastered) the first time through.  Lean is a hands on, elbow deep, dirty philosophy to “get”.  I hope I’m not painting a horrible picture here.  Yes, you may get a little dirt on you.  Yes, dealing with naysayers is tough at times.   In the end Lean, when embraced by all, works to create an ever evolving, ever improving business.

I believe Lean deployments are like opening a fire hydrant to get a drink of water; too much, too soon.  We overload the masses with new terms, ideas, the cool tools and start putting pressure to change the culture.  Instead perhaps we should start teaching the philosophy that enables Lean to be synonymous with continuous improvement.

Slowly, I don’t mean over the course of several years (though many Lean deployments I’ve seen take longer than a few years just to get started) but, over the course of several months begin to digest the principles behind Lean.  Subtly ease 5S into the workplace without even mentioning it’s name.  Under the guise of learning the business and team building create a value stream map that is easy to read and easy to digest.  There is honestly no need to need an engineer, database expert and a mathematician present to be able to translate the value stream map.  And, above all else, do not start out with setting quantifiable goals to gauge how Lean you are.

Treat it like kindergarten baseball, no one keeps score; play for fun!  Too often competition gets the best of people and getting to the next level becomes more of a priority than actually embodying the essence.  I was fortunate to work for a Fortune 100 company early in my career.  In the near ten years I was there the word Lean was never mentioned or alluded to.  Years later I compare how they ran their business and Lean and the parallels are amazing.  I had learned the essence of Lean without ever being taught Lean and it wasn’t until I truly understood and grasped Lean that I was able to put two and two together.
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Lean, Philosophy

Leaning out the Culture

Why is lean such a difficult concept to accept in America?  Every deployment I’ve ever been a part of has had at least a few individuals that would just try and spoil the soup and to what end?  I have sat down with a number of Lean Practitioners in many different industries within the US to get their thoughts on this matter and the following is a summation of those conversations.  It’s a shame that the US has such a hang up with the philosophical principles driving Lean.  Unless one enters a company with a strong cultural affinity towards Lean the transition can be a painful experience.  This is unfortunate because the benefits of Lean are immeasurable.

America just needs to let go.

Whenever the term Lean is introduced the initial thought immediately goes to the phrase, “flavor of the week(month).”  This term was popularized by the band American Hi-Fi but, more so coined by ice cream shops as their premier or special flavor and has been synonymous with new and exciting “programs” companies put out to improve the business.  Many times falling by the wayside after a few months or so until a new “program” is brought to the forefront.  I relate this to the “Peter Crying Wolf” syndrome and soon the latest “program” is understood to be a fad and not to become too engaged.  When this behavior is taken with Lean it creates a great distance between the Practitioners and the masses.

The philosophical principles that drive the tools of Lean are unable to gain any traction because the people never allow Lean to move.  They remain disengaged expecting Lean to be another fad or “flavor of the month”.  But, what happens when a company “pushes” Lean and enables Practitioners to really drive Lean into the organization?

Why does it remain a difficult endeavor even years into the deployment?

Even when Lean is adopted by some areas or groups of an organization because of the silo effect of many corporations, the benefits of Lean are not seen.  When asked of those groups to speak on their journey, much of the time all that is heard is “hard work”, “trial and error” and great deal of commitment required to get the “ball rolling.”  I will admit anything put into an existing system that disrupts the “flow” of that system creates a need for attention which could be interpreted as more work however, the hour you take today will save you the day you spend tomorrow.

Lean can be implemented in a manner that is less disruptive than many have experienced.  Often I hear that when a company begins a Lean implementation, the company either hires a consulting firm to train a few individuals to act as Practitioners in addition to their “day job” or they send a number of individuals to be trained in Lean Principles but, ultimately have the same expectations.  Either way the company is expecting these individuals to add on to an already full day and typically results in a poor attitude towards Lean.

Rarely does a company enable or hire someone(s) who will focus their entire being into a Lean deployment.  When this does happen though the second part must be full support and adoption by the top leadership team.  It must be driven down through the organization allowing Lean to become the way they manage the business.

Going further into a Lean initiative I have only seen one instance of a company starting at the top and truly driving Lean down from the top but, even then was met with quite a bit of resistance.  Finally after talking with many different owners and practitioners I feel it boils down to culture.  That big nasty word we’ve even created curriculum around to train people to deal with, CULTURE.

 Is culture really a deal breaker in any deployment? 

Many times there is nothing in place that “forces” a team, group or department to embrace the Lean philosophy and use the tools in the toolbox.  Some of the more successful Lean deployments have gone so far as to change personnel in areas to those who would promote and were in line with Lean philosophies.  I am not suggesting firing the department and starting fresh but, there are times when people are so toxic that purging the system of that toxicity is necessary to move forward. 

Removing “effective” from an organization and taking that step back is daunting however, there are times when taking that step back is required to enable the organization to move forward.  Toxins spread quickly and often result in killing any ground gained initially, taking the deployment back past the initial stages because there is animosity and unacceptance looming in the air.  Any attempt at re-deploying is met with greater resistance.

If those at the top are not embodying Lean what is the motivation to follow?
 
One must remember that the US is only less than 240 years old whereas, many other countries Japan specifically are far older and more importantly have had far less influence over their base culture.  Japan, which is where Lean was conceived and born, has a much different mindset and culture than that of the US.  These cultural differences enable the acceptance of Lean.  Culturally speaking Lean is Japanese.  Just as the philosophical principles of Buddhism, martial arts such as aikido or judo, and even manga are looked at quizzically by many citizens of the US, Lean is looked at with much the same reservation. 

I think going forward with a Lean deployment is tricky in any environment but, within the US where being an individual is preferred over being a part of the whole adds an element of disruption.  The consensus remains that a dedicated group of Practitioners educating and deploying with full support of the top leadership pushing Lean down through the organization is the best option to create a Lean culture within an organization otherwise, you’re just pushing a rope up a steep hill.  

 
 
 

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Lean

Lean: A Philosophy

A good friend of mine asked me what it was I did for a living.  He knew I took calls at all hours from all over the globe but, had no clue what it was I actually did.  So, I told him, matter of fact, that I was a continuous improvement analyst.  He returned a blank stare.  There was a long awkward pause and I added that I was trained in a philosophical business practice termed Lean.  This didn’t improve the situation and it was then that I realized most people, outside specific industries, don’t have a clue what Lean is.

I poured us both a drink, offered him a chair and began a twenty minute dissertation on Lean.  I went through the concepts and “tools”, briefly reviewed how to begin a Lean deployment and that because it is a philosophy, can be tailored to any industry.  He finished his drink as I ended my speech, looked at me and said, “Sounds like you just add fancy terms to common sense actions and principles.”

I didn’t know how to respond to this at first because, though it was not the first time I had heard Lean equated to “common sense” it was the first time I actually gave it deep thought.  Had I been fooling myself into believing Lean was more?  Is Lean just a “common sense” approach to business wrapped in a fancy expensive suit?

No.  There is nothing common about Lean.

Common sense infers there is a mass consensus of understanding regarding some, thing.  It supposes the majority of the population would agree to a common practice, thought, conclusion, etc.  Wikipedia defines common sense this way:

Common sense is a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things, which is shared by (“common to”) nearly all people, and can be reasonably expected of nearly all people without any need for debate.1 The everyday understanding of what common sense is derives from philosophical discussion, involving several European languages. Related terms in other languages include Latin sensus communis, Greek κοινὴ αἲσθησις (koinē aísthēsis), and French bon sens, but these are not straightforward translations in all contexts. Similarly in English, there are different shades of meaning, implying more or less education and wisdom: “good sense” is sometimes seen as equivalent to “common sense”, and sometimes not.2

Neither Lean, nor the foundational principles are, in my experience, truly understood by many or common to all people.  Experience has shown a wide gap between those who “get it” and those who don’t.  Many of those who don’t, sadly, show great resistance to the “philosophy” of Lean.  The feeling that Lean is just an “add-on” to their already full day creates animosity towards Lean and the practitioners.  The lack of understanding is a roadblock to true innovation.

Lean gets back to basics.  Lean, when implemented with 100% commitment, allows a person to do their job proactively instead of reactively.  Too often when sitting down with a manager I’ll ask, “How is your day going,” I’ll hear the same story.  They spend so much time putting out fires they have little time for much else.  Before we get to deep into the weeds I will be blunt and honest, Lean will not prevent fires from occurring.  Lean is not magical, however, it will allow you to see the fire before it grows and also get back on the road if a fire arises.

Lean encompasses so much that over the course of the next few months I will be writing posts describing the elements, principles and practices of Lean.  I won’t be focusing in any one industry.  Lean is typically related to manufacturing, which is where it was born.  I will keep these general on how Lean is deployed.  We have already begun the Lean journey here, as I would in a deployment.  My goal is that you have a deep understanding of Lean and hopefully become as passionate as I am.

Lean initially seems ridiculous at first because it starts well, at the beginning of what we do.  Too often we spend too much of our time “putting out fires,” or dealing with co-workers or office politics.  Our focus is not on our job.

Lean starts with getting back to basics and focuses attention away from everything except, what we are paid to do, our core job function.  It forces us to take a real deep dive into job specific elements and how they impact to the overall business.  It allows us to find the waste in the system and enables us to “stream-line” our operation.  Lean is our heads-up-display to guide us and continuously show us our status enabling us to make changes before we realize that the ship is off course, and that is just a high level look at Lean.

Lean is something I have a great deal of passion for.  Lean is something that works and keeps the job simple.  In today’s world of mass chaos Lean allows us to maintain the farm and catch the chickens when they get out of the coop without having to increase our efforts.

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