Natural born killers (I)


Yes, it is true, implementing Lean is difficult. This is no surprise since true Lean does not only introduce new tools and ways of working (techniques), it changes how you behave and think about work (management). It changes the culture. Some people quickly adapt to those changes, but most need time and patience, and this is ok. Resistance to change is human and will be there whether you like or not, so you better get prepared for it. It is a good idea to keep in mind some signals that can indicate that change is only happening on the surface. This “Natural born killers” series shows you several situations to watch out for. Today: “the Fireman“:

  • Signals: You have put a process in place, have written standards and have trained everybody. Things work apparently ok: the metrics show progress and Lean ideas are used. But what happens if a crisis comes (a close due date, an ugly quality problem, an accident…)? Do you still stick to your standards? If the answer is “no”, then firefighting is still in the DNA of your people. Observing how people behave in a crisis can show you a lot about how well your Lean efforts are progressing. Typically a powerful person (a manager, a very experienced worker) takes control over the work, even if they were not involved in the process until that moment. The Fireman has come to town. They adopt a “command-and-control” strategy, telling everybody what to do or even doing all the work by themselves. No team work, no data, just do things my way, the way it’s always been done. In many cases Firemen belong to the “do whatever it takes to hit the numbers” school of thought.
  • Solution: In general, preparing the process and the people for a crisis before it comes is a good strategy to prevent this problem: decide in advance how you will behave (crisis standards), how you will support the process (crisis backups), what data you will need to keep things under control (KPI, visual controls), how you will control progress (crisis meetings). A crisis is an exceptional event and it is ok to handle it differently from business as usual (this means that it is ok to have 2 sets of standards to use depending on the situation. This does not mean that following standards is optional in case of problems). Be ready to check if the company is really serious about Lean when a crisis comes.

There is an even riskier variation of this problem: “The Pyromaniac”. These people force the process to fail (unintentionally or not) only to have the opportunity to show their problem-solving skills. They are extremely dangerous and must be kept under control from the beginning.

Next chapter: the Human Computer

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