I’m a huge fan of narratives. I don’t mean any particular narrative, just narratives in general. Whether it’s George Washington chopping down the cherry tree or Taiichi Ohno going to a supermarket and coming up with the idea of kanbans or how small market teams can’t compete in baseball or why Nickelback is ruining rock music, it really doesn’t matter much to me. I really enjoy breaking down themes and finding the brilliance or flaws in the points of view. I can’t figure out if it’s because I’m just naturally curious or if I just really like to argue. (Except about the Nickelback thing. I’m not sure how anybody can argue against that.)
Lean seems to be drowning in narratives such as: ‘Lean means we are getting rid of people’ ‘ Lean is about cutting out inventory’ ‘Lean is a collection of tools…’ ‘Lean means we are eliminating the 7 (or 8 or 9) wastes’ ‘Doing 5S (or 6S or 7S) means you are Lean’ ‘Kanban cards are key to Lean’ ‘Kaizen blitzes are the way to be Lean’ ‘Lean is the same as TQM’ ‘Lean is like Six Sigma’ ‘Lean is bottom up and Six Sigma is top down’ ‘Six Sigma is a subset of Lean (or vice versa)’ I could go on and on and I’ve probably left some really good ones out.
I bring this up because of a recent training experience that I had. As I started the class, I asked what kind of perceptions people had about lean or what they knew about it. Most of the responses were along the lines of the first 3 or 4 statements in the last paragraph. For the first time, it really hit me that part of what I do when I introduce Lean is deconstruct people’s existing narratives and try to create new ones. As I reflected more, I understood that one way for me to get better at what I do is to channel my inner Don Draper and find better ways to sell people seats on the Lean carousel. As I try out some new ways to teach Lean concepts, I’ll post them here and maybe we can have some more discussion.