Now, thinking about it, how long have companies been trying to replicate Toyota? That’s easy fact to find: get the publication date of “The machine that changed the world” from Womack, Jones & Roos: 1991.
It’s been 21 years that people try to teach Lean. And few succeed. Yet the teaching and education business is longer than that. Should we have known a bullet-proof way of teaching, we’d know by then, don’t you think?
So, instead of trying to find the root cause of why Lean teaching fails (besides, it doesn’t really fail: it’s just that knowledge learned that way cannot be put into motion), let’s turn to what works instead. What do successful Lean coaches tell us about turning a company Lean? It simple, and I guess anyone in the Lean business knows it:
Or, as I read elsewhere:
Go to the real place, look at the process, talk to the people.
Why does teaching Lean doesn’t work?
Trying to teach as systemic a thing as Lean is very difficult. Every single tool or practice is connected to every other one: Just in Time helps with flow, but also raises problems (that the purpose, by the way!), so you can see them, but you’d need visual performance management board as well, which means you need to learn and practice Five Why’s root cause analyses, Pareto, and Ishikawa. So, you’d discover that your training is lame (Job Instruction!), your batches are too big and because your die changeovers are too long, so you must SMED them, and so on.
So, when someone’s trying to teach Lean, they’re mainly trying to have some square pegs forced into round holes. The peg being the Lean material, and the hole being the people’s brain they’re trying to indoctrinate. People will have a hard time making sense of their knowledge with what they have in production. Teaching them is also mostly diverting their mind from where the true work needs to be done: the floor (gemba).
So between using new and non-practical knowledge or continuing to do what they’ve already done (and that they perfectly know how to do from their perspective), what do you think they will do? They will continue to do business as usual of course!
So, what to do about Lean knowledge?
Should we stop teaching Lean? No, of course, otherwise we’d be short of Lean experts someday. But what’s important is that the ones having Lean knowledge don’t try to push it onto people (besides, pushing isn’t the best Lean practice, by the way), but they must try to have people pull knowledge. And not pulling knowledge from the mind of their Lean consultant, but from their own! Which means the Lean consultant must change job and become a Lean coach. The role of a coach being that of a guide that doesn’t give solutions, but helps and encourages on the path to understanding. Of course, the Lean knowledge of the coach is useful: it helps him/her to ask the good questions at the most efficient moment so that the people can discover and learn Leanin the context of their own work.
Here’s one example of what I meant by the diatribe above: http://theleanedge.org/?p=3875. Michael Ballé’s one of the most respected Lean coach on the planet, but it took me quite some years to fully understand what he meant by repeatedly and bluntly telling people (like myself!) to go back to the gemba and work there. But for people like me that are more interested in learning than in producing, that wasn’t pleasant a discourse as I wanted it to be.
Now I know how I can have learning AND teaching at the same time: by going to the gemba and patiently and relentlessly showing the direction of Lean to people, but by coaching them to discover what would work best for them, in their own context. Hopefully, I have different tools in my toolbox to help me along the way, like Appreciative Inquiry to work out with people why do they do what they do, Solution Focus to help them remember what do they do that already works for them from a Lean perspective or Systems Thinking to nudge them into considering the whole system rather than just their silo and have them get out of their own way to truly build that systemic way of the company by 1) going to the real place, 2) looking at the process and 3) talkig to the (other) people.