The tendency to erect a wall around lean

Recently I reflected with two teams on their progress with applying the lean principles. Both teams stated that the past months nothing had happened.


We discussed that they did not have time due to illnesses in the team and different other reasons why they were so buried under work that they did not have the opportunity. Then someone asked whether a period like that doesn't create a pressure to make changes to keep everything running. Sure, was the answer. And to the question how they had managed that they gave a range of examples how they had made improvements that reduced the time needed for activities, so that they could perform the work with less people. Different scheduling of nurses, different scheduling of patients, other task division, stop unneeded activities.


If that's not working on lean, what is?

They soon concluded that they did apply the principles. Why did they at first answer that they had done nothing? It became clear that they work 'on lean' when it explicitly carries that label. They apply lean when:
  • a change is introduced by the 'lean team' that regularly meets and thinks of new things
  • a change is decided on a workshop or so that carries the name lean in the title
  • or when it is directly connected to one of the instruments of lean
Changes that are made that reduce waste, increase value, improve flow etc., but without explicitly being labeled lean were, until now, not considered lean.

Ah, now I understand 'nothing'!

Why do we erect a wall around lean? Why do we create boundaries to say when activities are part of lean and when not? In this way lean can only have a very limited effect. We do not systematic lean from experiences that are relevant, but not labeled as lean. We do not acknowledge good progress that's made. We do not integrate the principles with other activities. We get less close to the hearts of people, because lean stays something foreign, that needs a label to work on. Every team has reduced waste or improved their working conditions etc. If we recognize those improvements as good examples of lean thinking, we can integrate the principles with daily practice. We can integrate it in the DNA of the team. So, we lack so far in this ability?

I consider lean thinking as a set of principles, a coherent way of thinking and seeing that can be inspiring. Lean asks questions why you do things as you do. Lean gives examples from other organizations that give food for thought, not least examples from Toyota. Lean challenges you to reach higher. lean thinking also describes instruments that have proved themselves, but that is secondary. But apparantly that's not how we communicate it?

In my view, embracing lean thinking means that you systematically elevate your efforts to reach higher levels of performance. Lean thinking means per definition that you apply the way of thinking onto everything where it can be relevant, even in your private life. If you think according to the principles, you cannot not-apply them.

Do you recognize the tendency to erect a wall around lean? What causes this tendency? What is the root cause of 'nothing'?

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