This was a great article I got via email.
"It's a quiet autumn afternoon, the sun is shining. The branches of the trees move gently in a cool breeze against a blue sky made milky with high cloud. The birds are mostly silent at this time of year - the only sound I can hear is a few leaves falling outside my open window.
But, what's that? I can hear a distant sound. Not sure what it is at present but it sounds kind of familiar. It sounds like a low buzzing or humming, slowly getting louder.
As I strain my ears to listen, I work out that what I can hear is voices. Lots of voices.
And they're all chanting the same thing. Can't work out what all the words are but I think I can hear something about "ducks in a row"
Then the penny drops.
You see, I live next door to a Home for the Terminally Bewildered. There are about 75 residents in all. A few retired military officers, one or two former head teachers, a politician or two and one ex-football manager.
But by far the most occupants are Lean Experts. So: what's their story and how do they come to be chanting in the nursing home whilst I'm trying to work?
Firstly, they're all good people. Educated, passionate, knowledgeable and committed (literally, in this case). None of them intended to end up like this. They all set out to do the right thing for some company or government department that wanted to implement lean practices.
Secondly, they all know how lean works. They've been trained very thoroughly in the tools to make processes lean.
That's where the problem starts...
All these people know how to use the technology of lean but none of them has been taught how to implement them in a real, human and diverse organization. They've discovered that knowing the tools is one thing. To make them meaningful to employees and managers is another matter entirely.
Take Mike. He was trained in Lean Implementation at his old company, ModPrint. An experienced Team Leader, he'd been on various training courses and understood all about line balancing, cycle time, throughput, kanbans and all the myriad bits and pieces that make a process lean. He became a real believer. He was so enthusiastic about it that he gave up his job at ModPrint and went freelance.
Soon, he was hired to implement lean in a plastics factory. After a quick tour of the plant he was convinced that there was lots of waste that could be eradicated. (He was right, but that didn't save him). He turned to the Operations Director for the plant and said confidently "I can save you a lot of money and make drastic improvements in your quality." The Ops Director was impressed and hired him.
Two weeks later all the line supervisors were gathered in the factory training room where a laptop hummed gently and a projector shone brightly at the screen. Nobody knew why they were there or what the session was about. Only that they had been told to turn up.
Mike entered the room and explained that they were all going to learn how lean works. He told them that he had made it work at ModPrint and that they could do the same at this plant. As he turned to his laptop, one or two of the Team Leaders looked at each other sceptically. He put up slide one and started to speak. "To understand lean we need to go back to the era of craft and mass production, before the first world war..."
What followed was a mixture of a few group activities and slides – lots and lots of slides. Between slides 89 and 90, the group were given a task that involved making things in a simulated production line with plastic toy bricks. That was fun.
By the time the workshop ended, the delegates felt a bit like people who have eaten too much – happy but stuffed. Mike's parting shot was "Go and make it happen!"
Three weeks later, Mike had sent in his bill for the work he'd done but nothing had happened on the shopfloor. One or two Team Leaders had tried to gather some data on current cycle time but had not had time as it was month end and the Production Manager had been pushing to achieve targets. Another had tried to run a session with his team to define the scope of a Value Steam Map. But his team were short handed that day and besides, the meeting room was booked for a senior management meeting
The Ops Director was very disappointed and refused to pay Mike. Mike tried to force the issue but they ended up having a blazing row. He only ever got a fraction of his money.
That was the beginning of Mike's descent into despair. His confidence drained away. He became more and more nervous in front of clients – worried that he wouldn't be able to deliver what they wanted. His clients – sensing his insecurity – stopped asking for his help. The money stopped coming in, the bills piled up. He became more and more quirkily obsessed by the tools. Eventually, he was apprehended by police standing in the middle of a busy highway shouting at passing motorists "Go to the Gemba!! Go t o the Gemba!!" After his family pleaded with him to get help, he agreed to check himself in for some serious therapy.
And that's how he ended up at the Home for the Terminally Bewildered. They treat the residents very well at this detox center. There's volleyball and tennis. There are attractive gardens in which the residents can walk. There are regular group therapy sessions. Sometimes – as part of the treatment regime – the group will intone mantras in unison. The chanting helps them to stay calm and reminds them of what they've learned through their ordeal. For the politicians it might mean saying in unison "Everyday, in every way, I'm learning what the truth is...." The football manager simply shouts repeatedly, "Publish and be damned!"
But it's the lean experts I can hear through my window, right now: "To change my company top to toe, I must get allmy ducks in a row."
And the moral of the story is....
Training in Lean tools is not enough – experts need to be human engineers as well.
That's the trick that many lean interventions miss. Many training courses will emphasize the technical components that make up lean processing. As if lean is somehow like a newly delivered machine with a set of instructions. Just unpack it, read the manual and a lean culture will just happen.
It isn't like that – as many readers will know. Employees and managers need information, two-way involvement and a true rationale for engaging with lean. Lean isn't a technique; it's a way of thinking and behaving."