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A Lean Excuse for Not Thinking

Recently a former colleague posted an article on a social media network entitled "The History and Simplicity of Lean Process Improvement". The author, Brian Hunt, suggests that elements of modern 'lean' can be traced back to ancient and mediaeval times. He then goes on to talk about modern Lean implementations and specifically Six Sigma techniques are often shoe-horned into an organisation with little thought for the people who actually do the work. Having had first hand experience of this, where both management and external consultants colluded to create a version of Lean that bore no resemblance of anything remotely approaching process improvement I couldn't help but chuckle at his example of a UK Government implementation of Lean which included marking out the required position of pens, telephones and other desk furniture for optimum productivity.

But my comment to Bianca, was more along the lines that we've a long established tradition, especially in IT, of jumping on bandwagons like Lean, Agile and a plethora of other 'methods' over the years, whilst at the same time throwing common sense and considered thought into the wayside.



Now I'm all in favour of new ideas, old ideas being regurgitated, or even incongruous ideas being thrown in the mix and muddled together to create something innovative. What I'm not in favour of is the latest fad being seen as a silver bullet to solve every problem regardless of how suitable or unsuitable it may be.

If you look at the job market for project managers these days very few of the advertised positions do not include Agile in them. For process improvement positions, a black belt in Six Sigma is pretty much a mandatory requirements, although Lean Six Sigma is preferred.

The reality is that very few organisations operate a truly agile environment (those that have adopted Scrum shouldn't even be advertising for project managers) and in fact some good old fashioned project management and good governance improvements would be a much better way to improve results than blindly deciding that 'we need to be Agile' without genuinely understanding what that means.

Similarly, organisations with a track record of failed process improvement initiatives would probably be better off looking at their organisational change management processes (or lack of them) than attempting to implement a Lean Six Sigma improvement programme (whatever that is!) and expecting it to succeed in spite of history....select your favourite maxim

  • those who fail to learn from the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them
  • stupidity is the practice of repeatedly doing the same thing in the expectation of getting a different outcome
Unfortunately there are too many managers and leaders out there who behave like the relative who gives you green jumper every birthday because you twenty years ago said you'd like a green jumper.  They jump on ideas and inflict them on their people, because they've stopped thinking properly in the internet age. It's easier to find out about a new idea by reading an article on LinkedIn and stamp it across the business without a second thought than it is to actually work out what the problem is and determine the best approach to solve it using the most appropriate tools and techniques before then implementing the change using good change management practice.

I'm still amazed at the number of organisations that launch an improvement programme, or roll-out a new tools without actually doing any analysis of the problem, let alone putting together any requirements. And absolutely not thinking about the consequences of their actions!

The best consultants and practitioners are not the ones who pigeonhole themselves into a trending method or ideology. The most successful people are those who keep an open mind, understand how different concepts, principles, ideas and tools actually work and how to get the best from the synergies between all the ingredients in the melting pot. They won't always succeed overtime, but at least they'll have a better chance than the trend followers and the ones seeking out the next silver bullet.







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