I’ve been thinking lately about the very low success rate of Lean turnover. Rumors has it that it’s as low as only 2% of organizations trying to transform themselves into a Lean system to successfully achieve this. Why is it so?
Apart from putting this onto top managers and other collaborators’ change resistance, I’d be thinking that people trying to introduce Lean may be the very root cause of that failure (2% success is a failure for me and the approach should be changed!).
So, being interested in Systems Thinking (all because of Michaël Ballé as I’ve tried to follow what he wrote and writes; he notably wrote “Managing with Systems Thinking“) I started to investigate using that line of thought. Which threw me into the world of archetypes and frozen situations where “the more you change, the more it’s the same” (in french: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose“). The archetype that kept coming back over and over in this case was “Shifting the Burden“.
Using consultants is a bad thing
First, the archetype appears in it’s most evident form: most consultants trying to introduce Lean in organizations do so from, well, that consultant posture which more than often triggers the “Shifting the Burden” systems archetype:
The archetype is the part delimited by the bold arrows. Other arrows are decorations (additions) of mine:
- R3 shows what the organization is missing: collaborators development that allows them to become better at doing Lean. Should the top manager conduct the Lean transformation herself, she could learn as well.
- R4 shows that the more someone else does the work, the less one can do it oneself (hence the less one learns and the less one will be able to do it later)
- finally, R5 shows why organizations keep contracting consultants: because they get short term results!
The problem being that since nobody usually learns during the consultants’ contracting phase (often too short for people to have learned themselves), the transformation is not sustained after the contractors leave.
Commoditizing Lean is also a bad thing
The next appearance of our Shifting the Burden archetype may not be that evident (it wasn’t for me). We often see Lean advertised as a toolbox and/or a succession of so called “kaizen workshops”. That’s what I call “commoditizing Lean”. When you select a few parts of method and turn it into something easily usable, well, you’ll make people use it. Moreover, you allow for a manager to give that commodity (or tool, or package) to a team to use it and to deploy it in the company. The consequence is that the team may learn from applying the tool, but the manager doesn’t. The team becomes the “someone else does the work”, and because it gets results, it gets management support to continue using it. Yet, in the end, should the management leave and the Lean initiative be stopped, there’s nothing left, Lean won’t be sustained.
From a constructivism point of view (Wikipedia definition: Constructivism is a theory of knowledge (epistemology) which argues that humans generate knowledge and meaning from their experiences) management has not learned (and the team probably has only learned to apply the tools).
So, given that two traps into which lots of people fall (I’ve been the “someone else” myself!), what works for deploying Lean? I’m not going to be original because it’s been said before: find a coach/senseï you (as a top manager) can work with and do what he tells you to do. You’ll learn by doing, you’ll model behavior, your people will feel appreciated and motivation for “doing Lean” should raise as a consequence.
Of all the “lean workshops” I’ve done when being the “someone else”, only two had a lasting effect after me going away. These were the workshop where middle management participated and worked to improve things along with their collaborators. I guess they probably understood some Lean things since they continued during many monthes after the workshop to visually manage their performance and solve problems to continue improvements. A great lesson for me. Alone.
There’s obviously a lot more to say, I’ll come back to that topic in other articles. Meanwhile, I’m eager to listen to your opinions on that topic, below.