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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