As part of joining up a little more permanently here with Matt, I am going to be switching gears on the way I approach things. Hopefully, I can continue to find different ways to approach some topics that I find engaging and contribute to the overall dialog. As I’ve said before, I love that he named this place “Beyond Lean”. It provides both of us a pretty big window on how we can observe and comment on our experiences and the world around us.
With all of that being said, I’d like to introduce a recurring episode I’m going to refer to as “Lean Epiphanies”. I’m going to highlight some smaller points, quotes, or ideas that I have picked up in my ongoing studies or in my everyday life. These are going to be those little “Aha” moments where you find a concept explained slightly differently than you’ve heard it before or small reminders of details of lean enterprises that suddenly click better than they have before.
One of those epiphanies came while reading the book “Toyota Kata” by Mike Rother. Some others have written some very good reviews and I have no desire to match their words. My only ‘review’ is to say that I can’t recommend the book highly enough. While Rother is describing the Improvement Kata , he goes in to some detail on the planning of improvement and describing how to find the first step. In discussing the delays associated with trying to find the biggest obstacle or the right place to start, he writes, “such delay is easy to avoid, because it matters more that you take a step than what that first step is.” With that phrase, pieces of a Lean culture fell in to place in my brain more completely than ever before. Framed against the background of a big picture Value Stream Mapping activity that I was working on at the time, the contrast of this phrase stunned me. Not that the VSM wasn’t valuable, but I immediately started thinking about how many lost opportunities there were waiting for a clearer signal for what the biggest problems were.
Sure…I understood what Kaizen meant and what it entailed. Sure…I understood and had executed the what’s and how’s of PDCA cycles. For the first time in my personal journey, I began to put those two pieces in context. They weren’t just pieces of an executed Lean culture. They were the culture. If I had people willing to make small steps every day (Kaizen) and knew their business well enough to know where they should try to make changes and how to measure the impact (PDCA), any other pieces would fall in to place as solutions learned through this process. The end result of those efforts would be orders of magnitude more “Lean” than all of the effort spent on tail-wagging-the-dog activities like premature Kanban boards and 5-S blitzes and so on. This becomes the answer to the how question that hangs over every Lean effort. I recognize that there are a some other aspects that are mandatory and I don’t mean to oversimplify. But, for me, this changed the way I think about the Lean.
Epiphanies are by definition personal events, so I don’t expect that everyone (or even anyone) got the same inspiration from the original chapter or the original book. But I do believe that these little nuggets are out there for everybody to find as long as we’re open to them. I don’t expect that my epiphanies will become your epiphanies. I just hope that as I add to this, you might be able to find some new moments that refresh your thoughts and your journey.