The Road To Lean

road to leanAn old TV series I watched recently reminded me of an experience I have had many times in my work. In this I Love Lucy episode, Lucy is ordered by Ricky to create a schedule to make her “more efficient.” A schedule board, posted in their home is a “best practice”, but without the best intent. The onus is on Lucy; the schedule is to keep her “accountable.” Ricky’s job is to watch the schedule for “adherence.”

Those words, accountability and adherence, I hear frequently. When problems occur, too often the accountability rests with the employee.   The “tools” are put in place to force “adherence.” The manager’s role is to “audit” – usually not the process but the employee. Kinder words may be spoken when these ‘best practices’ are described to customer tours, but on a daily basis, these practices are implicitly taken by managers to be countermeasures to presumed employee foul-ups, much like Lucy’s Schedule.

“Aren’t we supposed to be auditing?” a manager asked. "How can we ever sustain our improvement without adherence?” There’s another word I hear a lot: sustain.

“Are you checking up on the system that your employees labor in,” I inquired, “a system that you created, or are you checking up on your employees?”

‘”Well -- both, I guess,” she replied.

I offered my opinion: “If your employees feel you are checking up on them, they’ll do one of three things: fight you (like Lucy did to Ricky), fool you (pretend to participate) or capitulate (follow mindlessly.)”

Even the idea of “sustaining” bears negative connotations: a hidden intent to police employees to maintain, not improve. This is not the right intent. Regardless of the particular best practice we choose to implement, be it huddle boards, schedule boards, workplace organization, set-up reduction, mistake-proofing – you name it; if its intent is not to help employees, to remove their struggles and make it easier for them to continuously improve their processes, then it is worse than uninspiring. Small wonder this approach does not “sustain.”

The moral of this story: When the road to Lean is paved with the wrong intentions, it is destined to hit a dead end.


BTW: My next FREE webinar, “Tea Time with the Toast Dude”, entitled “The Deep Dive”, offers an antidote the condition described above (click to read more and pre-register). Better hurry – the webinar is next Tuesday, April 8 from 3:00-4:00 p.m.

And – I’ll be teaching the Shingo Discover Course, May 5-6, at the Shingo Prize Conference in Sandusky, Ohio. Hope to see you there.


This entry was posted in old lean dude, lean manufacturing, continuous improvement, engaged employees, kaizen, schedule, problem solving culture, toyota production system, sustain on April 04 , 2014.