Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
Home » Posts tagged 'flow'

Psychological flow and #Lean from suppliers and customers points of view

August 17th, 2011 Posted in Change, Lean Tags: , , , , , ,
Challenge vs Skill Diagram

Challenge vs Skill Diagram

Based on a comment by David on a preceding article on the same subject, I was challenged to think of the psychological flow of suppliers and customers of an organization’s processes.

Customers first

When dealing with customers, their needs have to be taken into account first and foremost. This means that the organization’s processes must not prevent the customers to experience flow (or even support it).

On the Skill axis, the processes must be designed in such a way as to make the customer feel like they are skilled in changing them. That doesn’t mean you wait for customers to offer advice, but that you actively seek it, in non intrusive way of course (with prevailing ISO 9001 certification, customers are inundated with customer satisfaction surveys). In Lean terms, this is where genchi genbutsu rules on the gemba of the customer: go and see him use your product in their environment and stay long enough to learn. That’s longer than you just thought.

The Challenge axis is a bit more tricky to me. Of course, we don’t want a customer to feel un-skilled and the process to be challenging to change (Anxiety zone). I feel the challenging part need to be understood as the way the organization challenge the requests of the customer.

In coaching, there’s a well-known difference between a customer request (what s/he is asking of you) and his real need. One need to work out the request to get to the need.

In systems thinking, this is also known as moving from the problem to be solved to the purpose sought. Often the problem masks the purpose. When the purpose is highlighted again, then a new path is often found which dissolves the problem. But this need the organization to be ready to ask challenging questions to the customer.


The customer part was probably the hardest. The psychological flow of the suppliers looks easier to me. To be in a flow, work with your organization should be easy (they need to feel like they are skilled to work with you) and, they need to be challenged and feel empowered to serve you at their best.

If your require the lowest of them, chances are you’ll get it, which will require few skill and will be less than challenging to them: a clear recipe for an apathetic supplier. But broad requests with a strong dialog between you and them where you share your customers’ vision and make them part of your extended enterprise will surely allow them to seek their most powerful skills to serve you and accept the corresponding challenges.

In conclusion

I sense a form of respect for people in both of these approaches: that in which you don’t accept fatality in your relations (you on one side and customer on the other – or you and “them” (suppliers)) and reach out to build that extended enterprise everybody’s talking about in the Lean literature.

My recipe for an extended psychological flow from suppliers to customers:

  • Co-create visions with suppliers and customers
  • Establish an extended Dialog between suppliers, your organizations and your customers
  • Praise and share results by focusing on what works to do more of it

Incidentally, this is also my recipe for successful changes

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…


Mail List

Join the mailing list

Check your email and confirm the subscription