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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: The Lean Movement is Changing

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: lundi, janvier 10, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

How does a lean organization ensure it provides value?  By continuously improving. How does a lean organization do that? By having its members practice every day how to continuously improve, so it becomes habit and culture.

A Shift in the Lean Movement

There seems to be a new thoughtfulness in some quarters of the Lean community, and I’m impressed. More and more people are asking why so much education, training and consulting and so many books and articles have produced so little change in what managers and organizations actually do. And thanks to developments in brain research there is a growing awareness for how change really happens… an appreciation for the power of learning new ways of thinking and acting through deliberate practice.

How to Develop Continuous Improvement

Brain research is clear:  To bring about a change in mindset it’s better to train a little every day, than in long sessions infrequently.

But if you stop and think about it, frequent practicing is not the way many of us in the Lean movement have been approaching training and development. We tend to mass it in blocks like seminars, workshops and benchmarking. Yes, a concentrated block of training or an implementation project can help you make a leap toward a technical target condition or pick up new information (such as how to calculate a heijunka pattern or number of kanban), but brain research shows that such episodic approaches don’t work for changing mindset and developing new behavior.

What works for adopting new ways of thinking and acting is short practice frequently repeated (spaced), with guidance from a coach. The implications of this for Lean training and consulting are significant. One lesson is that if you want to develop an inventive, adaptive organization with habits and culture of continuous improvement, then the associated practicing and coaching will need to get embedded in every day’s work.

For example, if you periodically conduct a training event or periodically work on an improvement but the rest of the time it’s business as usual then what you are actually teaching is business as usual.

But don’t just take my word for it. I think you’ll enjoy reading the following short excerpt from the book Immunity to Change, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey:

Immunity to Change

What Should You Practice?

However, there is a rub. Unlike the old, hands-off self-directed-team concepts, if you want to change through deliberate practice you’ll need to specify what the members of your organization should practice. That’s because the established neural connections that drive our current patterns of thinking and problem solving are strong and will predominate, unless we consciously practice and exhibit a different pattern.

What should people practice? There is of course all sorts of training that goes on in a company like Toyota, but the backbone practice in any lean organization is something I call the Improvement Kata. This is a systematic, teachable routine for learning and improving that anyone can get the hang of. The improvement kata is a way of achieving things that you don’t know how you are going to achieve. It’s not about coming up with the one best plan. It’s a way of acknowledging and handling uncertainty by means of a more iterative approach. Click here to view or download a short introduction to the improvement kata:

The Improvement Kata

At Toyota, teaching and applying the improvement kata throughout the organization every day is the context within which processes operate and continuous improvement takes place. Yes, A3s are created and the lean tools are applied, but without this context they will simply not function as intended. Sound familiar? We missed this context — understandably so because it’s nearly invisible, even to Toyota people.

But that’s OK. The Lean movement deserves credit for the remarkable number of people who have been converted, which puts us in a good position to start folding in the added ingredient of deliberately practicing an improvement kata.

A Bright Future

Established movements sometimes cease to evolve. When this happens they may stifle developments, suppress the emergence of new impulses or fail to see possible directions. But sometimes all it takes to get moving again is a nudge in a slightly new direction, and I think that may be what’s happening with Lean.

The center of gravity in Lean appears to be shifting from periodic improvements led by lean staff,
to daily improvement coached by line managers.

It may be safe to say that Lean training & development is going to start looking more like training in sports and music. In those fields the necessity of deliberate daily practice has long been recognized and accepted, and is even viewed as a pleasure. As you practice a new behavior you can see yourself opening up, changing and getting more skillful at doing something. That’s an activity in which mankind can share as it strives to meet new goals.

So… what’s your company’s improvement kata?


P.S.  If you would like to read more about this shift in the Lean movement, here’s a list of relevant books:

Reading List

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