Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
Home » Archive by category 'Lean' (Page 13)

Psychological Flow and #Lean

Challenge vs Skill Diagram

Challenge vs Skill Diagram

In Lean, we talk a lot of Flow: how a process can add value step by step, without ever stopping, up to the time the product is sold to a customer.

Now, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi also introduced the concept of psychological flow in which people are in a very attractive mental state. That state occurs when people work on a task that is both challenging to them AND they feel like they have enough skills to tackle it.

How does it relate to Lean?

Well, in non Lean companies (dare I say most of them?) people are usually  entangled in processes that are far from providing a state of psychological flow:

  • either there are not challenging enough and require few skills on their part and they feel bored at work
  • or the challenge is high but they feel like they lack the proper skills to perform, and they feel stressed (anxiety).

As per the diagram above, people rarely are in the yellow part of it (arousal, control or flow).

What can be done to change that? Well, what Lean is all about: remove muda, mura and muri!

By improving processes, it is thus possible to remove all that administrativia that often is neither challenging nor requiring high levels of skills to be done.

  • muda (non-value added activities) is neither challenging nor requiring skills to be done, hence negatively impacting workers
  • mura (unevenness) makes work fluctuate between a high challenge and a low one, making people oscillate between anxiety and apathy
  • and muri (unreasonable) adds to the challenge without a possibility to achieve it with skills, hence producing anxiety

So, working to create a Lean company is striving to make processes and people flow.

What’s more, the link between the two is the traditional problem solving activity of Lean when the processes raise problems that are solved by people. This raise their skill level, which result in improved processes that are thus better capable of raising more subtle problems, to be solved again. A virtuous circle.

I hope to see how this can be turned more strength-based in another blog post…


Strength-based #PDCA (#lean)

Lean is traditionally viewed as being problem-focused. That is, it works on problems to solve in order to improve efficiency. The core of Lean management is Shewart‘s cycle or the infamous Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Deming cycle.

Yet, I posit that Lean is indeed also very strength-based when “done properly” (that is, it’s LEAN not LAME – Lean As Mistakenly Executed). There’s a LinkedIn discussion group on Strength-based Lean Six Sigma which I encourage you to follow if you’re interested in the subject. I hope to write about this as well on this blog. Later.

What I’d like to ramble on today is on what the basis for a strength-based Lean could be. First of all, I must explain the difference between strengths-based and solution-focused:

  • Strength-based is about doing something by focusing on people’s strengths rather than focusing on their deficiencies or their problems. The strengths movement mainly came out of the CSV handbook (check what your strengths are on VIA for free!) though other companies devised their own list of strengths (Gallup or Clifton’s Strengthsfinder for instance).
  • Solution-focus is about identifying behaviors that worked in the past (or work in the present) and use them again. It’s not really about replicating a (technical) solution that worked in the past (though that could be the case. Yet, in Lean, standards are supposed to be your company’s best practices, so there’s no point in looking for solutions elsewhere).

So, what would a strength-based PDCA look like? Rather than giving directions, I’d like to propose some questions for each step that should elicit responses from people based on their strengths. or what worked for them. It’s a blend of Solution focus and Strength-based questions with a bit of Appreciative Inquiry in the beginning.


  • What works well in this job?
  • What first attracted you to this job?
  • What makes you “tick” about it?
  • Apart from this job, what do you love to do?
  • What do you think you are good at?
  • What would your friends and co-workers say about what you’re good at?
  • What are your wildest dreams for this job?
  • What three wishes do you have for this job?


  • What are you willing to do about this job?
  • What behaviors of yours have you seen successful in helping changing something you care of?
  • How are you going to approach what you want to do about this job?
  • What needs to be true (preliminary steps) for your wildest dreams for this job to come true?
  • What are the next physical concrete action that you need to do to advance on these preliminary steps?


  • Where are you on your path to achieve your plans?
  • What worked? How did you notice?
  • What have you done that made it work?
  • How are you going to continue measure progress?
  • What next?


  • What have you learned from what worked?
  • What have you learned from what you did that made it work?
  • How are you going to use that again with what’s left do to?
  • What do you know now that you couldn’t before taking action? What might be further on the road?
  • What new opportunities does it bring for your plans for the future? How are you going to improve your plans, then?

There’s so much to say about strength-based Lean and how you really can put the “respect for people” first in your Lean management so that your work experience skyrockets…

What my wild strawberries told me about #Lean

July 13th, 2011 Posted in Lean, Personal Development, Uncategorized

At the end of spring this year, I had the pleasure to see that my wild strawberries were 1) plenty and 2) ripe.

It turned out that harvesting them was a powerful Lean learning experience. Here’s why.

Before harvesting, I have had the habit of glancing at them every morning when passing by to go to my car. Only when I thought there was enough did I decided to invest the time in harvesting them. Also, I came to notice the powerful and tasty smell they were releasing. A kind of call for harvesting, for sure. Picking some at random from time to time finished convincing me that the time had come.

So, on that first evening at dusk, I picked up a bowl and started collecting them. Fool that I was! A bowl wasn’t enough for the quantity available (I have around 6 squared-meters of them). The day after, I collected another bowl. And the day after, still another one. I stopped after that (out of laziness I must admit and because I though that what was left wasn’t the burden of picking them up).

But what’s more important to me is what I learned during the time picking the strawberries:

  • that you can trust your nose and eyes as to whether it’s time to harvest or not
  • how you can improve your efficiency by attending to your tactile sensations when picking up berries: some come easily and are good to eat, some are resisting a bit: they probably aren’t ripe on all their surface (the one below often still being green) – so don’t trust only your first eye impression here!
  • that the bigger ones are often hidden by leaves (I suspect it’s because the exposed ones ripe more quickly and stop their growing – the ones being protected by leaves can grow more before ripping. Should I plant a shrub to shadow them? That’s something done for tea plants to increase chlorophyll and taste – with trees in India and artificial shadows in Japan for Gyokuro green tea. Some PDCA for some next year…
  • so I learned to move the leaves by hand to discover the bigger ones
  • I learned to detect by hand the ones already tasted by slugs
  • the ones that are of dark red but still small are often not tasty because they have lots of seeds on them
  • moving the leaves by hand, I shall not fear spiders, for they are more frightened than me
  • if I go in the middle of the gemba, err, the field, I can see more than by staying outside of it
  • so I learned to move among them without crushing them
  • picking some, I looked between my legs (head upside down) and discovered that I could see under the leaves and discover even more than by moving leaves by hand. I ended with a combination of the two (hopefully, my neighbors aren’t able to see me thanks to the hedge while doing this)
  • I also learned to 5S the place a bit, especially at the borders of it, to prevent shoots from colonizing the rest of the garden
  • I removed grass between strawberry plants
  • I also removed the offshoots from a previous hedge that was located where my strawberries are now, before they grow too big

So, as I said, after the third day, I stopped harvesting, believing I got most of them. A few days after, I discovered how foolish I had been. New lessons: don’t trust your mind, go and see by yourself. Also, do the hard work! It turned out that it wasn’t that bad: some strawberries were too ripe to be eaten so I let them fall on the floor so the seeds can make for the Next Generation (although strawberries are perennial here).

So, my wild strawberries told (or remembered) me some powerful Lean lessons:

  • use your senses fully to be efficient (Franck I guess you’ll be happy on this one! 🙂
  • go to the real place, do the real job, to learn practical experience and identify improvement opportunities
  • do the hard work and don’t only rely on what you’re thinking: go and see always and always, even when you think you know already, for you never know completely anyway
  • 5S your workplace to allow for more efficiency, to discover problems or prevent future ones – also, 5S is something you can do while working, not only at dedicated times
  • Flow allows for concentration that allows for deep learning

What have you learned of your work that would allow you to improve it? When have you last improved your work?

When was the last time you learned something out of the work your employees do everyday long?

When was the last time you gave them the opportunity to improve their own work based on what they learn from it every day?

What behavior of yours have you seen successful in prompting improvement activities from your employees? What could you do tomorrow to replicate part or all of that successful behavior on a recurrent basis? What’s in it for you as well?


Using Motivational Interviewing to elicit change under constraint (#change #lean @biggerplate #mindmap)

I’ve just finished a wonderful ebook on “Motivational Interviewing in Probation” (see my links on my delicious account) and it appeared to me that this skill may very well be suited for Lean Coaches when they don’t have the opportunity to coach top management but are asked to “do Lean” in the company.

Most of the time, managers are asked to “do Lean” and this very request triggers their change resistance upon arrival of the loca Lean expert (coach). As each managers may be on a different stage of the change model (see my previous article on Stages of Change Model), the coach should be addressing each of them differently. This mindmap explains how.

Use your new MI skills to achieve that and tell me how it works. Warning: it may look easy, but it’s some hard and live intellectual work. But who said Lean was easy anyway? 🙂

See the uploaded MI on Probation mindmap on Biggerplate here.

David Kolb #Learning Styles (a #mindmap uploaded on @biggerplate)

June 23rd, 2011 Posted in Lean Tags: , , , ,

I’ve just uploaded a new mindmap over there:

It might be useful to know these as different people as different learning styles.

Useful to inquire attendants before starting a training or, better yet, build a training session that appeal to all kind of learning styles and build that into your training as specified by TWI.

The happy complexity of organizational productivity (#lean #solutionfocus #appreciativeinquiry #systemsthinking #positive #psychology)

I’ve been reading that article in Havard Business Review about “The power of small wins” (paying article) and somehow some things felt down together in place:

  • Lean management and any continuous productivity improvement approach for that matter
  • Solution Focus
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • Positive Psychology
  • Happiness (at work)

Read more »

Nice website about #Deming : (#lean #systemsthinking #change)

I’ve stumbled on this nice websiote with lots of advocacy for Deming’s work (yes, the quality movement initiator). Have a look at

Moreover, the site also makes the link with Lean and Systems Thinking and advocates for a change in management techniques.

Have a good reading!

When is the last time you reflected on your own management behaviors?

A #systemsthinking explanation of lack of respect for people (fundamental #lean pillar)

I have recently finished reading this excellent paper from Raul Espejo regarding the law of requisite variety: “Giving Requisite Variety to Strategic and Implementation Processes: Theory and Practice“. Espejo is a person to read if you’re interested in the Viable System Model (see corresponding articles on this blog and my delicious bookmarks on VSM) as created by Stafford Beer.

In this paper, Espejo make the stunning comment that (I quote, emphasis mine, excerpted from page 3):

“[…] many organisations are still driven by the hierarchical paradigm that assumes the distinctions made at the top are the only relevant ones, which implies that people at lower levels are there only to implement them, but not to make distinctions of their own. Therefore the assumption is that the complexity of a senior manager is much greater than that of a professional in the production line. Somehow it is assumed that people at the top have much bigger brains than those working at ‘lower’ levels. Since they don’t, the space of creative action at ‘lower levels has had to be reduced. The assumption becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. This becomes manifest when power is exercised by enforcing distinctions made at corporate levels to construct a limited context of action for the majority in the organisation.”

The last emphasized sentence is insightful for me: “The assumption becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy”. What is meant is that with top management having a mental model of having bigger brains than people at lower hierarchical levels, they take on more decisions than people below them. This mental model then hinders learning from the very people that top management would probably want to have bigger brain but that they prevent them from developing… Management complains about employees being cogs in the machine, but, because they think they are, they remove every opportunity for them to turn back to being human and use their brain, which makes them further into cogs.

Another case of espoused-theory vs. theory-in-use, I guess.

In Lean, we say that management should act as coaches to their reporting collaborators and don’t give them answers (we even encourage management to let their employees fail in order to learn). It may be slower on the short-term, but probably the best way to grow them and increase productivity and morale in the longer term.

How many times today have you solved someone else’s problem?

I hope you’ll solve less tomorrow…

Increasing your change management skills with Motivational Interviewing (a new #mindmap on @biggerplate)

I just uploaded this mindmap on BiggerPlate here.

MI is an ecological way to elicit change motivation and action in people that may have been resisting it in the first place. A perfect skill to master, IMHO, for any change leader or change agent (including Lean management!).

Best of all, it fits very well with Solution Focus, as I have already said previously.

What have you done recently to help people around you accept change?

Redirecting attention from negative to positive in 3 small steps (P->C->O) (a @doingwhatworks blogpost, useful for #Lean change?)

Another great article from Coert Visser about overcoming the so-called “resistance to change”:

Doing What Works in Solution-Focused Change: Redirecting attention from negative to positive in 3 small steps (P->C->O).

Often, a Lean program (or any change program for that matter) is being imposed on people by upper management. Hopefully, most of the time, management asks what need to be achieved, but not necessarily how it needs to be done.

That P>C>O method looks useful when people don’t want the change being imposed on them (Lean for that matter). It indeed means that they want something to change: the contraint being imposed on them!

So that a nice way to reframe their “resistance” and transform it into something they want more of.

As I’ve read elsewhere on contrained change: rather than work on the imposed change when the person needing to change does not want to, work on the contraint itself: “what can we do to get some relief from this imposed changed on you?”.

And then the talk can go into another direction.


Mail List

Join the mailing list

Check your email and confirm the subscription