Learning to Cook (or Focus on the Means)

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on October 26, 2009 · 4 comments


If you want to learn how to cook, who do you learn from? You could learn from the restaurant critic with their insight on what’s good and what’s not, or your could learn from a chef, who knows how and why to make the meal.

I received a great question, or more accurately a challenge, from Bob Marshall. Bob comes from the agile software world which overlaps with lean in other spaces but clearly also has its own momentum behind it. Bob’s question was as follows:

“Why does Lean seem to value means over ends”? (Or at least, many folks proselytise it as such)

I believe there are two parts to this answer. First, I think many lean people preach that we focus on means at the expense of ends. I don’t think this is right. Lean should focus on the ends. It is the results that we are ultimately after. Toyota as a culture is obsessive about results.

But you don’t manage the results. You manage the process that gives you the results. That’s where the answers lie. Consider most of your reports, which by nature are centered on results. Most results reports tell you IF you have a problem. They might even tell you WHERE. But they almost never tell you WHY. The whys are what we need to improve. It’s how we fix problems. It’s how we gain insight. The important answers lie in understanding the means, so that you can successfully and consistently deliver the ends.

So how would you learn to cook? The restaurant or food critic will tell you 101 reasons why the result is wonderful or unsatisfactory. But they really can’t tell you why. For that you need the chef. Because the chef masters the process, the means, that generates that meal. The critic might be in a position to be the ultimate judge, but the chef has all the answers to make things better.

How would you answer Bob’s question?

1 Paige Moore October 26, 2009 at 6:44 am

Of course we can learn how to cook with chef, like what you said chef masters the process, the means that generate the meals.

2 Dragan Bosnjak October 26, 2009 at 7:38 am

Hi Jamie,
I would like to indicate you one of the most popular articles on my blog which is the standardized work for the tiramisù (typical italian sweet) recipe.
My blog is talking about lean thinking but I have tried to explain how standard work can be used effectively in cooking, with explaining also the whys for correct preparation…
The post is written in italian language but you can make the automatic translation with google which pops up on the top of the screen… If you want, I can make the translation for you in decent english, but that should take some time…
Hope this interests you and is on topic…

3 TIm McMahon October 26, 2009 at 9:44 am

Good reflection Jamie. I would add there is one more reason to focus on the means and not only the results. I agree results are important and necessary which is why we have goals and objectives. These can change though over time due to a varitey of internal and external conditions. For instance we have had a goal of reaching a certain cost target due to a market price. While making impovments to reach the goal the market price changed and the cost target as a result. By focusing on the means and not only the results we were able to move past this easily.

The results only orientated mentatily can cause organizations to miss the market and voice of the customer as a number of organization have demonstrated. Results can often imply a destination and with lean we have learned that there is always a new level to reach.

Being process focused allows us to reach the result effectively. It is true as stated here you can’t manage the resutls you only report. You can manage the process. The better we get at the process the better the results.

4 Jamie Flinchbaugh October 26, 2009 at 8:48 pm


I agree. Although you can pursue something like cost and quality in perpetuity. A really good lean organization maintains the same metrics year over year, even if the target does change.


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