The Challenge of Lean with Dan Jones

Daniel Jones is a management thought leader and advisor on applying lean, process thinking to every type of business across the world. He is the founding Chairman of the Lean Enterprise Academy in the UK, dedicated to pushing forward the frontiers of lean thinking and helping others with its implementation. Dan is my guest on the Business901 podcast next week and this is an excerpt from the podcast. Dan Jones

Joe:  Lean is leaving the four walls of the factory. As Lean moves into knowledge fields, I personally think waste reduction thinking is a burden on it. Everybody starts to look at that first rather than the collaborative learning aspect of it. I think Lean’s strength and growth is collaborative learning. That’s one of the secrets of lean. Is there a way to present that to people, better than what has happened in the past?

Dan:  “There are some obstacles in that kind of environment that make it hard for people that want to grasp this. The first obstacle is that we are knowledge workers, we don’t want to have people standardize what we do. We are creative folks. We got away from that factory environment where we just do the same thing over and over. So the idea of standardization is an anathema. However if you look at any work, particularly design work or transaction processing work, a lot of it actually is fairly similar and routine. Also that’s where the problems are. If you can standardize those routine tasks actually what you end up doing is freeing up time for the creative tasks. So once people see that, they switch their views and think, well the standardization not of everything but of the routine and getting the hassles out of the routine that really makes my life better.

That’s one obstacle. You can’t tell people that standardization leads to creativity but actually it does. That’s what people discover. And in the end, you ask them after they’ve done a bit of this, and improve their lives, where they’d like to go back and they always tell you, no you’re kidding. Now it is so much better. So that’s one way in. The other way in, in that kind of work too is that people are typically working on too many projects at once and so there is lots and lots of changeovers going on.

They are typically working ahead of the customer or the user specifying what they actually want. So there is a tremendous amount of confusion as to what the actual task, the actual problem that you are trying to solve is. That just generates a tremendous amount of unnecessary work that people are happy to do but actually isn’t creating any value for the customer and it’s not always easy to see which work is really work and which work is actually going to lead to something tangible for the customer.

The thing about the construction industry for instance, in the construction industry the business model is such that the contractors actually make money on the changes. They don’t actually want the customer to really specify in detail exactly what the building is going to look like, because they are bidding low to get the business anyhow, and they want the customer to make changes so that they can then charge a hell of a lot for the changes, and that’s where they make their money.

There is a similar aspect in IT systems as well. Partly we are trying to always sell prototypes that are not fully developed and get the customer to pay for the development part but also because the customer is not knowledgeable at what the capabilities might be, and because it takes too long to develop these systems and type of things needs change, this all adds a tremendous amount of confusion. So in IT development I would say you don’t start until the very last moment when the customer has done all the specifying they want, until they are really clear what they want.

Then don’t work on anything else until you finish it. So you have all the information you need, work on it, completely, uninterruptedly, until it’s finished. That will end up with less work per project and much better customer satisfaction. So you just got to start looking at the workflow and the type of work and the influences on that work in a slightly different way.”

Listen to next week’s Business901 podcast as we explore the future of Lean!

Daniel Jones is the author, with James P Womack, of the influential, best-selling management books:
The Machine That Changed the World: The Story of Lean Production
Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, Revised and Updated
Lean Solutions: How Companies and Customers Can Create Value and Wealth Together
Seeing the Whole Value Stream.

Related Information:
Defining the Roles of Lean IT
When Standard Work and Customer Focus come together
The Difficulty of Mastery = The Difficulty of Lean
A Collaborative approach to Value Stream Mapping

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