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#Lean is social constructivism and constructionism (#stwg #systemsthinking)

A few days ago, I attended a Lean conference in Paris (with Michael Ballé) and had an insight with respect to what Lean senseïs (such as Michael) are trying to do.  Or, to be more accurate, I attached some specific meaning to a senseï-deshi relationship (which should be that of a manager with his collaborators, by the way). The details of this kind of relationship and what it entails is well described in Toyota Kata by Mike Rother (a book I yet have to read as I can’t keep pace with the TAKT of Toyota books being released… More info from Mike Rother is available on his own homepage for Toyota Kata with summary slides).

What is it that I had an insight about? Well, one recalls that:

  • a manager should spend most of his time on the Gemba, coaching his collaborators
  • the coaching consist mainly in having people repeat the PDCA loop: grasp the situation (by going to the gemba again), make hypothesis, test solutions and adjust/genealize through standardization where applicable.

One utterly important point (to me) is that the manager/senseï always stresses that grasping the situation, hypothesis formulation, solution testing and standardization must be done with all people impacted, on the gemba.

Testing is where constructionism as a learning theory occurs and co-thinking on a problem is where social constructivism happens. Let me explain below.

On social constructivism in Lean

Lean is very high on socialization of workers (and managers! Western companies should learn from that) and the A3 document is where this most evidently occurs: the A3 holder should not work on his problem on his own but meet with all stakeholders with the A3 as a central point of discussion and summary of discoveries about the problem.

What this process is all about is plain social constructivism: people make meaning of their work environment by constantly exchanging between them about it, either in groups (in Obeyas) or face to face.

Here’s what wikipedia says about social constructivism:

Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge that applies the general philosophical constructionism into social settings, wherein groups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings. When one is immersed within a culture of this sort, one is learning all the time about how to be a part of that culture on many levels. Its origins are largely attributed to Lev Vygotsky.

(emphasis mine)

Sounds familiar to Lean people, huh?

Social constructivism is a way of seeing knowledge as meaning made out of social interaction. Any other “knowledge” is just hypothesis making and needs to be confronted (dialogued) with other people to check for validity and build meaning “into” it.

We all know how senseïs work hardly at breaking our (often wrong) mental models and replacing them with 1) Dialogue with stakeholders and 2) genchi genbutsu. This is where the second part happens.

On constructionism (learning theory) in Lean

With Lean senseïs striving for everybody to meet on the gemba where the real stuff happens, Lean is rooted in constructionism as well. Constructionism as a learning theory is defined as follow by Wikipedia:

Constructionist learning is inspired by the constructivist theory that individual learners construct mental models to understand the world around them. However, constructionism holds that learning can happen most effectively when people are also active in making tangible objects in the real world. In this sense, constructionism is connected with experiential learning, and builds on Jean Piaget‘s epistemological theory of constructivism.

(emphasis mine; the page further elaborates on problem-based learning… hint, hint)

What this means is that those that do something learn and know (quite) for sure. What you know in your head without prior testing is only belief (which unsurprisingly rythms with bullshit in Michael speech…)

I recall having read about or heard some of the most impotant questions regarding A3 thinking:

  • how do you know this is a problem? Have you gone to the gemba to check?
  • what are you going to do to test your hypothesis? (constructionism)
  • how will you convince your co-workers about your solution? (constructivism)

Merging social constructivism together with constructionism

The beauty of it all is to have both social constructivism and constructionism learning combined into the same management principles: meaning making occurs on the gemba with people dialoguing together.

That’s what a Lean senseï is trying to do: design learning experiments on the gemba where his deshi could learn something.

Footnotes

Here are some other notes that came to my mind while writing this post. Causation or Correlation? Probably both, the reader will decide…

Michael’s doctorate work on mental models

Michael is the son of Freddy Ballé who introduced Lean in France and Catherine Ballé, an organizational psychologist. Michael did his doctorate thesis on change resistance, especially in the context of introducing Lean into manufacturing companies. That work resulted in the writing of a book (french only it seems): “Les modeles mentaux. Sociologie cognitive de l’entreprise” (which could be translated as “Mental models. Cognitive sociology of organizations”) where these topics are described in deep details along with hypothesis, experiments and their analysis – all on manufacturing gembas. Already.

TWI Job Break Down Sheets improvement by Toyota

Looking back into Toyota history, one can compare the way teaching is done today to how it was done at the time of TWI at the end of World War II.

  • TWI’s Job Breakdown Sheets originally had two columns: “Major Steps” and “Key Points“.
  • Toyota’s JBS have one more: “Justification for key points“.

They obviously realized early that meaning at work was very important for employees. This of course also relates to their “Respect for People” pillar which implies that people know why they’re asked to do things…

Now, I hope you’ll understand better what is meant by “mono zukuri wa, hito zukuri“: “making things is about making people” (Toyota saying as said by Mr Isao KATO here [last page]).

 

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