Should we be using Proverbial Wisdom to guide our Lean Transformations?

Transforming your workplace with Lean thinking through teaching your people to identify losses and wastes at the earliest possible time

Should we be using Proverbial Wisdom to guide our Lean Transformations?

by Ross Kennedy, 23 January 2018

The following piece of proverbial wisdom is remarkably astute: Give a person a fish, and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime.

So how does this apply to a Lean Transformation?

Our observation is that many companies are setting up their Lean or Operational Excellence departments with Lean specialists whose role is to identify improvement opportunities then execute Lean projects or events to achieve the targeted gains for the company. They get the people in the area being targeted involved, however the time allocated is normally as short as possible so as not to disrupt operations. Typically it is just enough time to get the Lean specialist’s well thought out change implemented before the focus is 100% back on the job at hand.

Sadly what we find is that often many of these Lean projects are not sustainable, or do not achieve their full expected benefits in the long term because the Lean specialist moves onto another project in another area, and the people in the original area drift back to their old ways.

In other words the Lean specialist, often directed by his boss for quick wins, is more focused on getting the Lean project outcomes (the fish) rather than teaching everyone involved about how to identify losses and wastes at the earliest possible time and be able to address them promptly.

Professor Jeffrey K. Liker from the Industrial & Operations faculty at the University of Michigan USA in one of his books published in 2007 titled Toyota Talent: Developing your people the Toyota Way touches on this very important and often forgotten part of Lean when in chapter 2: Toyota Works Hard to Develop Exceptional People, he explains how the Toyota Production System’s chief architect Taiichi Ohno, as he implemented single-piece flow, soon learnt it would not work by relying on the traditional model of Industrial Engineers telling the workforce what to do.

“A select few front-office experts could not possibly deal with all the situations that would surely arise. He needed capable masses. The development of capable masses requires a clear plan. It requires time and patience. Above all it takes persistence and the willingness to stick with it and to deal with the individual peculiarities and challenges of each person.”

It is worth reflecting on your approach to your Lean Transformation. Are you feeding your people fish, or are you teaching all of them how to fish for losses and waste?

CTPM’s approach to Lean Transformations is very much based on progressively teaching all your people how to fish for losses and waste with a few fish (early wins) thrown in to keep senior management happy. This is why our motto is: Think People before Tools

If you would like to learn more about CTPM – The Centre for Australasian TPM & Lean, and our approach to Lean Transformations, contact myself Ross Kennedy at