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I spend at least 50% of my time teaching classes for people who for various reasons are interested enough in lean to spend a week immersed in experiences designed to cause them to understand and apply lean principles to what they do.  The focus of the week is creating breakthrough thinking that will shift beliefs about designing, managing, and improving any process.  I get to see a lot of people experience “Aha Moments” during simulations, hands on work, or other methods designed to bring lean principles to life.  It is inevitable that the baggage and barrier stories will begin to surface.  People compare the concrete logic of lean to their collection of stories of how things work in their organizations.  The stories come out in dialogues seeking solutions, not as limp whining from victims.

“My manager will not notice that the number of good quality units produced will increase 20%. All he notices is machine speed. Slowing down a machine is not OK.”

“HR and the union will never let that happen.”

“If the customer wants to change the product after the cutoff date the answer is always yes.”

“She will never agree to post this metric on the executive scoreboard. It’s politically dangerous to show performance this far off of expectation.”

“Budgets have been cut. Now we spend time and money patching things repeatedly. When it breaks down and can’t be patched, the costs are very high.  The directors know it and seem to ignore it.”

“We have had so many people and programs come and go. I’m not sure how I’ll convince my team to get on board with this.”

Baggage.  All of this is baggage.  It might as well be an over sized Tumi suitcase filled with what people believe about the way things are where they work.  The baggage is opened up when a new experience is encountered and the real possibility of alternatives is considered. The baggage goes on one side of the scale and the new option, lean, goes on the other side of the scale.

Baggage must be dealt with. It’s a real dynamic.  One question begins to shift the view on the baggage, “What can you do to change that?”  It is motivating to hear the responses to this question. Involve cross functional peers in control room/stand up huddle meetings, direct observation walks, or problem solving teams comes up often. Define a problem using data, propose a test, or take a waste walk with a team member are constructive options.  People will choose to stop finding who is wrong and begin to understand the process. To change the baggage, people decide to work on what they control – 5S their office before asking employees to 5S their work station or van, or define checklists as well as standard daily and weekly tasks, or observe problems at the source rather than jumping to solution. People step up when asked what they can do to use lean thinking and set the baggage aside.

Baggage is a real barrier to progress. Making a firm decision to put it aside, taking personal ownership to do something different is the first step on the lean journey.