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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: How Can Standoffs Between Lean & IT be Avoided?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Saturday, September 11, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Question:  How can ugly standoffs between lean and IT be changed, and what would be the first steps in such a journey?

If IT is about data and standardizing and Lean is about facts (go and see) and continuous improvement, then collisions between IT and lean are predestined. But, you know, collisions aren’t necessarily bad, as long as they are viewed as challenges. A lot of things we take for granted today arose out of problem solving triggered by seemingly unsurmountable dilemmas and obstacles.

I think the answer is simple, but not easy… everyone in the organization works within a context, a mindset, that is established over time via the words and actions of leadership and management. If management establishes a mindset of continuous improvement, by having all members of the organization (leadership and management included) deliberately practice an effective means of doing continuous improvement, then standoffs can come to be viewed as challenges and will lead to the development of new solutions. We will strive more for “and” than for ”or”.

Engineers, for example, also work within their organization’s prevailing mindset or context. Once when we were improving an assembly cell we wanted to move a workstation’s cycle-start switch to a location that better suited the changed operator flow. But after unbolting the switch we found only an inch of cable behind it.  This was sort of a manifesation of the engineer’s thinking, which in turn was a manifestation of the organization’s culture. The engineer had learned a mindset that led to thinking such as, “This is how the operator will always work, where the cycle-start switch should be, and once it is installed it will not be moved.”  Ongoing change, improvement, adaptation and innovation were not on the engineer’s radar, because that’s not how his brain was being trained by his organization.

I imagine there are some terrific new ways that IT and Lean can dovetail, we just can’t see them yet. Our common future doesn’t lie in the solutions themselves but in how we go about developing solutions. And we have on board the capability to be great problem solvers, but it tends to be latent in groups and, in my opinion, is not well mobilized with the current management model. Thousands of workers are being retrained due to changes in the economic environment. Maybe it will be the leaders’ and managers’ turn next.

I know I probably sound like a broken record with this post, and I apologize for that.  I think how we manage ourselves in our organizations — i.e., the approaches we use for making collaboration work — may be the pressing issue of our time.

Mike

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