Honoring Lean Principles Alone Won’t Replace Methods for Changing Thinking

As always, the lean crowd is predictably unpredictable.  Everyone has a different view and I love perspective, but defining lean and every one’s different interpretations of it is virtually impossible . . . like chasing Jell-O across the table.

A recent comment caught my attention. The claim that Lean is more than tools is predictable even though they all run around with 5S, kaizens,  poka yoke, standardization and other Japanese terms that long lost context of the thinking that created the tools.  But this comment claims that if we honor three principles we change thinking.  Well why didn’t I think of that?  Here they are:

  1. Honor Standards
  2. Honor People’s Good Ideas
  3. Honor Customers

Well . . . there you have it.  Go improve your service organization now, but don’t forget the tools.  Even though they don’t transfer very well from manufacturing to service.  This thinking is why according to Nohia and Berkley in Harvard Business Review claim 75% of executives are unhappy with change initiatives in their organizations.

Now why?

American Management thinks they can just copy from Japan, but they don’t know what to copy! – W. Edwards Deming

And so here we are with failing projects to improve organizations, because copying Japan is not enough.  Dr. Deming challenged us to think for ourselves not learn the Japanese language.  His concern, we will never catch up . . . Japan isn’t standing still.  Copying always leaves you behind the one that is advancing thinking.

Just saying buy into these principles will not get you where you want to be.  The human change methods I reference, change behavior in a normative fashion.

How is this different?

I’ve ranted many times about how standards create failure demand in service organizations.  The often quoted “Where there is no standard, there is no kaizen” is mostly true . . . in manufacturing, but the variety problems of service are completely ignored.  It is blind copying.  But don’t believe me, look for yourself.

The human change methods I am talking about have to change thinking (management thinking) and behavior changes will follow.  This is Dr. Deming’s 4th area in his System of Profound Knowledge – psychology.  There is no tool in the lean toolbox.

The audits for compliance lock in the waste created.  The inspection police come to check their boxes, this isn’t improvement this is coercion.  You may get compliance, but you haven’t changed thinking.  Worse, you add to costs.  The best inspection you can have is never done (not needed) or done by the worker alone.

While service companies are out building misguided standards and entrapping with technology, we miss the 95% problem that Dr. Deming talked about . . . management thinking.

From “If Japan can . . . Why can’t we?

“I ask people in management what proportion of this problem arises from your production worker. And the answer is always: All of it! That’s absolutely wrong. There’s nobody that comes out of a School of Business that knows what management is, or what its deficiencies are. There’s no one coming out of a School of Business that ever heard of the answers that I’m giving your questions—or probably even thought of the questions.” – W. Edwards Deming

So, if we want to improve our systems.  We need normative methods to change thinking and behavior.  The coercive and rational approaches just don’t work.

And no, Lean has nothing in their toolbox.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Make the new decade a profitable and rewarding one, start a new path here.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about how to get started at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

Tripp Babbitt is a columnist (Quality Digest, PSNews and IQPC), speaker, and consultant to private and public service industry.

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