Tag Archive | Lean Enterprise Institute

Lean principle #2: Learning to see


“Learning to see” is the name of one of the most influential lean books (link to the Lean Enterprise Institute store here and the Amazon page here). Learning to see is also one of the most important things to do when working with lean, especially to introduce Lean concepts in a new place. It is impossible to overemphasize how important it is. People are used to see their work using standard batch-and-queue principles, ignoring wastes, believing that wastes are part of the process and therefore impossible to eliminate. People think they are unique (this is true) and lean can not work for them (this is false). That’s why they must learn to see.

The biggest problem here is that people only see what they are looking for. Our brain likes working like that. This is called selective attention (“selectively concentrating on a discrete aspect of information, whether deemed subjective or objective, while ignoring other perceivable information”, according to Wikipedia) and is one of the root causes of people not seeing evident problems and wastes in the process they work everyday. There is a classic and very popular video that illustrates this idea. It is called the gorilla test and was developed by Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris in 1999:

I have used this video from the Quirkology webpage many times to help understand the same idea: you only see what you are looking for:

Learning to see means changing the way you see the world and this takes time. It’s not something you make with just one training session or a kaizen event. It takes patience and continuous work. However it is critical to make people aware that things can be different, especially process experts. Experts know almost everything from the process but they might also be missing critical information just because their brains consider it irrelevant. Learning to see is a critical step that increases the quality of Lean work and the sustainability of the solutions.

Lean transformation model

This is a very interesting new video by the Lean Enterprise Institute about Lean transformation:

The key message here is that effective enterprise transformations need change and innovation improvement at 5 dimensions. Using a house as an example, these dimensions are:

  • Objectives, goals and aspirations (The roof): What is our value-driven purpose? Why do we exist as a company? Do we care just about generating money (goal = profit) or do we want to create value for customers, employees and society (focus = value)?
  • Process (The 1st wall): What is the work to be done? Based on the company’s value-driven proposition, every person in the company must know the answer to this question: “what problem am I here to solve?”. Processes help us accomplish our purpose (just as walls hold up the roof). Process improvement (how do we improve the job?) is a key component of this pillar.
  • Capability (The 2nd wall): What capabilities do we need to do the work and solve problems?. This 2nd pillar makes sure that people are able to do and improve the work correctly.
  • Behaviour (People living in the house): What behaviours (soft skills) are required? What is the management system? How do we react to the different circumstances that happen at work (e.g. somebody makes a mistake)? What systems are in place to find out problems and help people solve them?
  • Culture (Foundations): What is our basic thinking? What are our mindset and underlying assumptions? Some assumptions are visible and explicit but others are hidden and, in some occasions, we are not even aware of them. We have a current culture as it is today and an ideal culture we aspire to. Understanding this will give us a gap to close.

All these dimensions are key for effective transformations and if you leave one out, everything will probably fail. Lean transformations need a situational approach: this means that every situation is different and needs different actions to succeed.

For more information, read the article by the Lean Enterprise Institute or this post.