Tag Archive | Sustainable change

3 signs that people are not on board

Change Management

I’ve worked in many Lean and Operational Excellence initiatives and know that people is key. I know you know this too. It does not matter how well you apply Lean principles, they are useless if people are not on board. I call this “the F1 car without a pilot” syndrome. Your work will most likely finish like this:


Summary: You have to pay attention to people. Good news is that people tend to show their dislike and frustration; bad news is that they typically don’t do it verbally. How could you know? Observe how they behave. In many cases people don’t like change because they fear its consequences: “will I lose my job?”, “will I lose power?”, “will everybody know all the things I do wrong?” and many others. Most animals (including human beings) do one of these 3 things if they are scared:

  • they hide
  • they freeze up
  • they attack

It is not very difficult to find out that something is going on if you pay attention. Any of these signs will tell you that you must take action:

  • Hiding signs: people not showing up at meetings, people saying they don’t have problems, managers not showing their metrics when asked, nobody has improvement ideas
  • Freezing up signs: people staying in silence at meetings, nobody wants to own actions, actions are not done on time, are done partially or not done at all
  • Attacking signs: people saying “we tried that before” or “it won’t work here”, people blaming each other, direct attacks to the improvement initiative.

What to do? Keep calm and work to create confidence.


  • DON’T put in place your favorite solution at any cost
  • DON’T cut and paste the solution that worked somewhere else
  • DON’T ask for ideas if you are not ready to listen carefully
  • DON’T exclude people you don’t like or who don’t think like you
  • DON’T use any type of passive-aggressive tactic (“well, if you are not interested in improving your work….”, “if this is the way you like working”, “nobody is apparently ready for modern management…”
  • DON’T start the meeting if you are nervous, angry or unprepared

DON’Ts summary:




  • Ask supervisors / managers to explain why this project is important and how it will impact the company / department. If supervisors / managers can’t explain this, don’t go on.
  • Ask supervisors / managers to thank the team for the hard work (at the end of the project)
  • Ask supervisors / managers to guarantee a risk-free environment. Explain what will happen if the project is a success (e.g. what will happen with the people you no longer need if the process is optimized)
  • Ask supervisors / managers to participate in the team’s work: 80% listening, 20% talking.
  • Let the team ask any question to anybody or challenge anything.
  • Let the team try their solutions, no matter how wrong they might seem
  • Let the team decide implementation dates
  • Make team members commit in public to the action plan
  • Let the team present their solutions to their colleagues and supervision
  • Let the team decide how to measure success
  • Let the team decide how to follow up progress (but there must be a follow up process)
  • Let the team decide what to do if things fail
  • Celebrate success / celebrate learning

Don’t forget the people aspects of Lean unless you want your project to finish pretty much like this:





Natural born killers (II)

Does not compute

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”

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

Picture from: http://www.deviantart.com/morelikethis/62564349

Lean DNA


It is always good to remember this: Lean is not about the tools, Lean is a thinking system. The Toyota Production System and its tools (SMED, 5S, Kanban,…) have often been considered the same thing. Everybody working with lean has probably made this wrong assumption at some point, but TPS is much more.

The classic article “Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System”, by Steven Spear and H. Kent Bowen (HBR, Sept 1999) helps understand that TPS greatest achievement is to create a global community of scientist who use PDCA to establish hypothesis and test them. In other words, it creates a rigorous problem solving culture. Read the full article here:


Thomas L. Jackson (Hoshin Kanri for the Lean Enterprise) has summarized it this way: “The major question in assessing [Lean] development is: To what extent has scientific PDCA thinking become part of the company’s culture?“. This idea can be articulated in 5 rules:

  • Rule 1: Standardize processes & work
    • Reduces variability
    • Improves quality & learning
    • Creates controlled conditions for improvement
  • Rule 2: Zero ambiguity
    • Customer requirements must be absolutely clear to everybody working in the value stream
  • Rule 3: Flow the process
    • Material and information move in the most direct way
  • Rule 4: Speak with data
    • Decisions taken at the lowest possible level
    • Decisions takes as close to real-time as possible
    • Decisions based in PDCA
  • Rule 5: Develop people
    • Workers who are problem solvers
    • Leaders who are teachers

The best strategy to develop Lean is to find your own way of applying Lean rules and not to simply “copy and paste” Toyota tools. Implementing tools without much thinking rarely works, creates frustration and ultimately makes everybody lose faith in continuous improvement.

A kind word and a gun

“You can get more with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.”

Al Capone

Lean is a team sport and one of the most important things to do is to communicate and influence others (remember, influencing is very different from manipulating). In most cases, aligning people to your project is the key for success, much more than the correct use of tools and techniques.

I attended a conference 2 weeks ago about the science of persuasion. This video summarizes the main ideas:

The basic concept is that people tend to say yes when any of these situations happen:

  1. People give back what they have received first, especially if it was personalized and unexpected (Reciprocity)
  2. People wants more of those things that are not abundant. The value of a product is as important as its cost of opportunity (Scarcity)
  3. People trust credible, knowledgeable experts (Authority)
  4. People like being consistent with the things they have previously said or done. This works best using voluntary, active and public commitment (Consistency)
  5. People tend to say yes to those they like: those who are similar to us, pay us compliments, have common goals (Liking)
  6. People like doing what similar others do (Consensus)

I found it interesting and I discovered that I had used the Consistency and Consensus principles in many projects to improve the chances of sucess. Anyway social sciences are never easy to validate and of course it is your choice to believe this or not.

By the way, the quote at the beginning of the post is often attributed to Al Capone, but in fact humorist Professor Irwin Corey said it. When you thought it was a Capone quote, were you more willing to believe it due to the Authority principle? 🙂

If you’re going…

If you’re going through hell, keep going.

Winston Churchill

Implementing change can look pretty much like hell. And the only solution is to keep going. Yes, I know, life is not fair 🙂

I hate housewor…

I hate housework! You make the beds, you do the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again.

Joan Rivers

It reminds me so many lean projects…