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Why I think Lean is (also) strength-based

November 10th, 2010 Posted in Appreciative Inquiry, Change, Lean Tags: , ,

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A lot of people from the strength movement (Appreciative Inquiry, Solution Focus, etc.) view Lean as a deficit-based only approach to change. I disagree. Or at least I’d like to temper this idea.

Although it’s mainly presented that way in most litterature, I do view it as a very positive approach to change. Only often the positive future is mainly in the senseï‘s head (term for a Lean coach). When “doing Lean” in an organization, what the Lean coach is trying to achieve is have people (and management) make more of what works in other organizations. That’s what so-called “Lean tools” are: demonstrated best practices principles to improve an organization. Management and collaborators should always devise their way of improving their own jobs (because that creates more engagement), it’s sometimes quicker to reuse and adapt best practices that worked elsewhere.

Lean tools (with accompanying management model) are designed to show a gap between what’s wanted (a better view of the future) and what’s currently happening. And this gap may be a deficit OR a strength as reality could be better than what was intended at the beginning. Hence, collaborators have the opportunity to detect strengths and replicate them (we call this “standardize” in Lean terms).

Now I’m not saying Lean isn’t also deficit based. It does look at under-performance and ask collaborators to solve problems but only in order to achieve excellence (very positive vision).

Of course, all that I talked about above is true when Lean is “properly” done, which means that some policy deployment (“hoshin kanri“) has been done and that all collaborators had the opportunity to imagine a better future and ways to achieve it. Though Appreciative Inquiry is not mentioned in that part of Lean, I view policy deployement as a way to Dream about a better future. The Discovery (Inquiry) part may be missing in policy deployment, but it surely is present in day to day operations (or should be, and that’s the role of management of ensuring that both problems AND strengths are discovered – problems get fixed and strengths replicated).

Oh, and strengths (or solutions to problems) need also to be discussed with other team members, so collective inquiry into improving / replicating strengths is indeed present. This is done through creation of “A3” (named after the size of the paper on which that activity is done) where a situation is collectively discussed and ways of improving it (possibly by replicating what others may be already doing) collected and shared.

To end this article, I’d like to advocate people that would like to reinforce the strength-based approach of Lean to participate in the LinkedIn group “Strength-Based Lean Thinking / Six Sigma
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