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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Convincing Decision Makers that Lean is Not a Program

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Saturday, June 5, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Question:  How can you convince decision makers that lean is not just a program?

Knowledge about Lean tools like cells, kanban, etc., seems to produce continuous improvement only if the surrounding management system is intent on striving toward a customer-oriented vision and is teaching people a systematic routine for how to do that.

Lean Industrial Engineering produces one-time benefits, but it can do more. It can generate continuous improvement when applied within Lean Management. That’s the argument I think. Do you want continuous improvement or one-time improvements?

A Different Task

Changing how you manage an organization is a different undertaking than implementing tools or programs, and that reduces the range of potential adopters. If you say, “Lean is a program to minimize waste and maximize productivity,” that’ll be fine with most decision makers. But if you say, “Lean is a different way of managing,” you’re going to lose some of them. Maybe a lot of them.

Why do we have so much lean industrial engineering and hardly any lean management?

Surely one reason is that we saw the visible Lean tools first and only more recently realized there is a less visible Lean management context within which the tools are nested.

Another reason is that the perceived advantage of introducing something new needs to be greater than the cost, in order for decision makers to feel they are better off doing it. For decision makers accustomed to managing the traditional way (establish targets, describe solutions, provide incentives, check results), the Lean way (develop people) understandably seems like more effort for an unclear return.

Another issue is how much perceived effort is required to try, learn and transition to the new way. I think we in the lean community could do a better job here. Many lean books contain good advice, but what they often end up providing is a list of practices or principles. As many of us have found, such lists are not operationalizable. A list is not a method. Until we provide more specific guidelines that instruct managers and leaders in what they should actually do day-to-day in order to manage the lean way, it’s going to be difficult for leaders to change how their organizations operate. To what should they actually change it?!

The Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata are exactly such a guideline, by the way.



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