Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
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#Lean is hard on processes in order to be soft on people

October 11th, 2011 Posted in Lean, Uncategorized Tags: , , , ,

After yesterday diatribe on the people side of improvement, it occurred to me this morning that when doing Lean management, what we work with are mainly processes, not people; at least not directly.

“Hard on problems, soft on people” is indeed an often cited quote in Lean culture.

Lean is based on a coaching culture where the coaches are the managers (“teach, don’t tell” is another Lean quote). Yet, you can’t coach someone who doesn’t want to (whatever his/her [good or bad] reason).

So, the process is used as a pretext for that coaching. In an organization that needs to make benefits, improving efficiency is something well understood from employees. Yet, it’s hard (if not impossible) to come toward people and tell them how they should work better, because:

  • it’s disrespectful (and Lean is based on Respect for People!)
  • it’s presumptuous unless you did their job before and preferably not long time ago
  • and even if not long ago, you’d be served a well-merited “why didn’t you do it yourself when on the job”?
  • you don’t have requisite variety, meaning a manager can’t know the details of how to do each and every job he’s supposed to manage
  • and finally, it goes against what Lean management teaches us: having employees learn. If you tell, they don’t learn. Period.

So, even if you know how to do it better, you shouldn’t say it. And so you focus on the processes instead. Because by improving processes, you squeeze problems out of them, which means food for thought for your employees, which they will solve because it’s their job (not yours as a manager!), which will improve further the process and make it all the more sensitive to more subtle problems.

So is the virtuous circle of Lean.

(The vicious circle of traditional management is all too common: no problem solving, thus more problems, more firefighting, less time to solve anything, and more problems, leading to people leaving the company, new hires, less experience of the current situation and so further less problem solving). I wrote about it here: Nobody Ever Gets Credit for Fixing Problems that Never Happened (Creating & Sustaining Process Improvement).

How often do you focus on the processes instead of only the results of them?

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?


Some thoughts about what #positive #lean could be by mixing #AppreciativeInquiry and #SolutionFocus

I’ve been thinking lately of what some less deficit-based or more positive-based Lean could be. I know three kind of positive approaches:

  • Appreciative Inquiry, more geared toward identifying what gives life to people, what interests them;
  • Solution Focus, which tries to identify what works or has worked and do more of it;
  • Positive Deviance, which allow a group to identify people (the positive deviant) that achieve a definite purpose in the same condition as others who do not.

What I find interesting in these approaches is that I find them far more powerful when it comes to motivating people to change. Because they appeal to what people really want or like to do. Surely enough, epople do want to solve problems, but only to the extent that it allows them to move toward something that they feel interested in, something that serves them in one way or the other.

Read more »

Don’t push #Lean onto #management: #coach them to pull it from you

Morning thought: I occurs to me that Lean consultants (whether internal or external) often try to push a Lean transformation onto management and most often (98% of the time) fail due to so called “change resistance”.

But it’s no wonder people resist when you try to force something onto them.

The paradox here lies in the fact that Lean experts have a detailed vision in mind of how to do it and what the final objective might be (Yeah, I know Lean is a trip and not a destination, but a one piece flow throughout the company makes for a kind of objective for me).

The problem for me is that Lean people try to force management into a vision that they don’t have in mind. Even when it’s an intellectually convincing vision, since it has not been grown inside management’s heads, they won’t accept it.

Aristotle said that to convince someone you need to use (in that order I think):

  • ethos: who you are and what credibility lies in you and your message
  • logos: what you’re going to say and whether it’s logicial and intellectually sound or not
  • pathos: an appeal to the audience’s emotions.

So, to convince people, you need to be credible, be clear in your explanation… and make people feel they want it. Not just need it. You need something from intellect. You want it from emotion. And what’s better than building a vision for creating emotions?

That’s probably why waste walks with a coach/senseï work so well. Or seeing a Lean place (or building a model line if you can) and, more than ever, continually:

  • going to the gemba to see what happen by yourself (second hand reports are intellectual, not emotional unless the reporter is good at storytelling);
  • looking at the process (not just wandering around);
  • talking to the people… just because emotions will come from interacting with others!

So, there’s no need to try to push the whole Lean management system onto management people. It’s complex and overwhelming. Bounded rationality will have them fly away (if not the double-bind you’re creating by doing so).

I think that proper coaching could help management emotionally connect with their people and see how they could help them fix the broken processes they’re trapped into. People love helping and teaching others. Only you need to provide them with the required skilled to do so (skill in the job and skill in teaching/coaching). TWI understood this long time ago. And it’s only when everybody’s started to take care of their work environment that I think you can teach them to connect processes to create a (one-piece) flow.


Welcome !

October 23rd, 2010 Posted in Uncategorized


It’s been a long time since I had a blog (computer security it was about).

In this blog, I’ll try to give my thoughts on the subject of organizations as Systems and ways to improve them (Appreciate them). I’ve recently discovered systems thinking and been trained in fundamentals of Appreciative Inquiry. I hope to speak on all of that and hope not to say too much errors 🙂

For the rest, I’m a big proponent of Lean as a way to manage organization to improve it for the benefits of its employees, customers and other stakeholders. I’ll very probably blog about that too.

Feel free to leave a comment should you agree, disagree of just want to say hi!

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