Where Are Lean People Going Next?

by James La Trobe-Bateman on November 15, 2020
Lean Improvement Words

If you are in the business of improvement, then you must use lean, 6 sigma or total quality tools.  Or you have no credibility.

But does it make you effective?

The lean movement outside Toyota has been around for 30 years and yet it still only scores about 25% success rate (ref 1).

Why doesn’t it do better?

Some say ‘try harder’.  Many say that the key part of the Toyota method is ‘respect for people’, ‘empowerment’ or something similar, and that this is still missing from most implementations.  We need more ‘soft skills’, supposedly.  And even if we had them, would we be able to fight the rising tide of shareholder power (“give me results this quarter”) over stakeholder power (“sustain and grow the community that the business feeds from and to”)?   Big issues that ‘trying harder at lean’ will not solve.

That’s the context.

What does it mean for those who practice lean?  Those whose job is to improve things?

One thing is for sure. You do not have job security.  If 3/4 of the time you fail, those accountants aren’t going to want to keep paying you.  I’ve certainly been there, although I jumped before I was pushed.

So what do you do…as an individual working as a change agent?

You have to take a different approach.  You should think about improving yourself, as a person rather than as a professional.  I mean Personal Development not Professional Development.  Not another 5S or Taguchi or Poka Yoke program.  I mean grow as a person.  More Tony Robbins than Shigeo Shingo.

Why?

Because those failures are failures to change people’s minds.  How do you do that if you can’t change your own mind? It starts with you.

Now I know that this is a scary thought for engineer types.  In fact, I have to admit that I ran screaming from a live 2 day Tony Robbins event after only 4 hours of it.  Luckily I have a partner who understood about Terror Barriers and the way through them.  We learnt a model for understanding this that can be taught and that people can internalize.

We live in an ever faster changing world.  You can see this in the strong reaction to it in all walks of life.  The world needs change agents more than ever.  But those change agents must be skilled in more than Lean.  Then they will be really valuable.

There’s some learning to do.  You need to get past your own terror, then you can help others.

Once you get past the terror, you will find freedom.

  1. Ignizio, James P. 2009. Optimizing Factory Performance: Cost-Effective Ways to Achieve Significant and Sustainable Improvement. 1st ed. Mcgraw-Hill Professional.

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