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?


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