How to trick yourself into thinking you’re doing lean (and trick others at the same time)

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on January 10, 2012 · 4 comments

What to do when problem solving tools become the problem?

One of the funniest blogs in the world, in my opinion, is The Oatmeal. However, this one about pros and cons struck a cord because what makes it funny is exactly that it’s how people work. Here’s the heart of the problem:

Pros cons list Image by The Oatmeal, Matthew Inman

We sometimes confuse using the tool, or filling out the form, or making a list, with actual analysis and thought.

This seems to hold true in many domains. “We’ve done the ROI analysis and filled out the Excel spreadsheet to the 15 decimal point” is confused with doing a thorough and thoughtful job analyzing a particular investment.

We’ve put it through our scoring system and it scored an 85” is confused with judgement.

Or “we’ve done our kaizen event / process map / value stream map / 5 why / A3 / some other tool so therefore our conclusion must be a lean conclusion.

Using value stream mapping as an example, I had the General Manager of a division look at the value stream map we had just spend many hours building. We hadn’t started discussing the analysis and conclusions. It was a break, and he was leaning back in his chair, staring at the map. I sat down beside him and inquired into his thoughts. He said, “if it wasn’t for our customers, and our suppliers, we’d really be in pretty good shape.” He was serious. He couldn’t see what the map was telling him, and more importantly, he couldn’t see his role in fixing it. He was not the General Manager for that division for much longer.

In coaching another team through an A3, we got through the problem statement and started working on the current reality. The team had no problem getting started. They just listing bullet point after bullet point of things that they knew about the current state – everything they knew. The list went on and on. Some points were observations, and others were metrics. After the team started losing some steam, I asked them to take a look at what they wrote: did they learn anything? The answer was no. They hadn’t put any observation, analysis, or thinking into the process. All they did was fill the empty space on the template.

I sometimes joke with one of my clients that something doesn’t exist at the company unless there is a meeting or template. But this isn’t far from the true in many lean journeys. Don’t believe you are doing lean just because you’re filling out a template or following an agenda. It’s the thinking that counts.

Today’s Reflection Question: What stories do you have of people confusing using the technique with actually doing the thinking? And how do you avoid the trap yourself?

I would love to hear from you. How can I, and the Lean Learning Center, help you? Contact me and let me know.

1 Chris Paulsen January 10, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Sometimes you see a team go straight to the same conclusion that they “knew” was the problem before doing the problem solving exercise. This can probably happen with many tools but this can be common with 5-Why’s and Cause & Effect Diagrams.

I will challenge the team to dig deeper if they are not finding multiple potential root causes or if they seem to be on one track….

2 Keith Poirier January 10, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Great blog! It’s true, employees on the lean journey often need a list, template, presentation to feel like they’ve accomplished something.

As a lean leader, sometimes the reflection, real-work and best ideas hit me when I’m least expecting it (and not at my workplace). Thank goodness for the Blackberry in my pocket used to take notes and send myself an email to spur action when I’m back at the Plant…

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