Monday, April 30, 2012

Lean Snake Oil Cures what Ails Ya

Step right up Ladies and Gentleman! Do you suffer from bulging inventories? Are you feeling tired and wore down chasing problems everyday at work? Are parts of your organization afflicted by dislocation? Perhaps you suffer from irregularity of flow or constipation and blockage? Do rashes of quality problems create irritability and discomfort? Having trouble applying kanban or finding the time for kaizen? Do you find incorporating lean thinking into your culture just too difficult and painful?

My friends fear not! Your days of suffering are over. Just one bottle of this new and improved formula of lean elixir has been scientifically proven under the most rigorous of conditions to cure what ails ya!

Yes, you heard me correct, my dear friends. This wonderful tonic of the east has the magical like powers to create a self-healing, self-improving, self-regulating system to free you from the hard work, constant coaching and relentless pursuit of perfection. No need to lead by example or get your hands dirty understanding your processes or teach others within your organization. You no longer need to help improve, just let you employees do it on their own under this system of self fixing.

Taking regularly and by explicitly following the directions on the bottle, you will be transformed like never before. And for a few extra dollars, you can speed up the lean process like never before by adding heavy doses of metrics and measurements followed by holding them accountable. Now all you need to do is go back to your office, sit back, relax and let the miracle medicine work its wonder.

Who will be the first to free themselves from the burdens of continuous improvement? Step right up!

Doesn’t this spiel sound just like what you imagine a snake oil salesmen from yesteryear would bark to the crowd gathered around his traveling wagon of wonder cures and concoctions?

Today, there is plenty of snake oil to go around. There seems to be a lot of touting of different models to achieve higher levels of leanness. Some place emphasis on certain lean tools, others promote a specific path or model as the missing link to achieve lean greatness. Really, can a lean system be self healing and self improving? Seriously?

In all my years of experience in learning the lean way and applying lean thinking in various companies and industries, I found that there is no silver bullet and no one best way, despite the boisterous marketing hype. I also learned that lean systems do not run by themselves.

Using kaizen and developing lean thinking into your culture takes time, energy and effort. More time than you think, tons of energy and a tremendous amounts of effort. Even after all your blood, sweat and tears, there are still no guarantees.

The lean approach is not easy and requires practice, perseverance and patience. It takes serious commitment by management that most are not willing to make.

We need everyone involved in kaizen, everyday, everywhere. This certainly includes our management. Everyone needs to make time for kaizen. Management need to be in gemba more often, not less. Bottom line, you can’t delegate kaizen.

So next time you hear about some secret to becoming lean remember that hard work and personal commitment is no secret. In the wise words of our elders before us, “if it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true”.


Pete Abilla said...

Yes, I've called this the "oprah-ization" of lean, which describes the subculture that is pervasive in lean consultant literature.

Rob said...

“It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best.”

- W. Edwards Deming quote“

For me there is no "snake oil". You can't learn Lean from a business school. No one graduates in Lean. You don't leave school knowing anything about Lean. Improvement is a long, hard slog. However, I do think consultants have a role. As Deming said:

“Does experience help? NO! Not if we are doing the wrong things.”

W. Edwards Deming quote

Ortwin Link said...

Great post and so true: Lean improvements don't come for free!

John Hunter said...

So true. People look for the quick and easy solution for lean. What is required is changing how management thinks and acts. Without that a few tools can provide some nice benefits but you are not doing lean (you are just using a couple tools).

I am surprised how reluctant people are to continue down the path. Some places do, but so often efforts are tripped up because they are not willing to change. It is really illogical to me, to see people making the choices to fall into old habits when they have seen the results of better strategies. But it happens all the time.

Jonathan Sands said...

...I was waiting for the 'buy one get one free' offer...

Needless to say that a number of people within organizations will overstock this snake oil too!

Great posts. keep 'em comin'