Are you struggling with Lean? You might have a Lean killer in your organization. But don’t worry, the “Natural born killers” series is here to help! Don’t miss chapter 1: “The fireman“. Today: “the Human Computer”
- Signals: Is the process flowing smoothly until somebody takes vacations or is assigned to a different project/area in the company? You might have a human computer in your team. They control the information and limit the access to critical data to others, therefore they become indispensable for the work. Sometimes they are easy to uncover, most times they are not. Even worse: in some occasions managers promote and reward those people because “they are very valuable and always find the information we are looking for”. Oh no!
- Solution: This problem can be prevented with real standardization: all process steps and all critical data must be documented and made available at the place where it is needed. After that, extensive training is needed for all workers / shifts. This is more difficult than it seems, because human computers will not provide the information openly. My first piece of advise is: involve human computers as soon and as much as possible in your improvement work. If they feel they are the stars of the improvement process and will be rewarded for its success then maybe (just maybe) information will show up. Involve human computers in presenting the solution to management: this will make them feel responsible for the new process and will increase dramatically the probability of success. My second piece of advise is: test the solution in all possible ways. After that, test it again. Try different shifts, different people (experts and juniors), different equipment. Try all combinations and force errors to happen. This will reduce the chances of having poor standards and people will get familiar with the new information.
Human computers are a very real problem and extremely harmful, not only because they control the information but also because their behaviour might look beneficial to the process for many.
Next chapter: “the Artist”
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“
Picture from: http://www.deviantart.com/morelikethis/62564349